Mesa County jobless rate trending down

Curtis Englehart
Curtis Englehart

Phil Castle, The Business Times

The monthly unemployment rate in Mesa County has retreated to its lowest level in more than two years, raising hopes for even better labor conditions in 2017.

“I think we’re definitely on the right track,” said Curtis Englehart, director of the Mesa County Workforce Center in Grand Junction.

According to the latest estimates from the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment, the seasonally unadjusted unemployment rate fell two-tenths of a point to 4.3 percent in November. That’s the lowest level since the rate stood at 4.1 percent in October 2014. At this time last year, the rate was higher at 4.9 percent.

Moreover, the decrease in the jobless rate from October to November 2016 was the first for that span since 2013, Englehart said.

For November, Mesa County payrolls slipped 22 to 70,053. But the number of people counted among those unsuccessfully looking for well decreased more — 192 to 3,138. The overall labor force, which includes the employed and unemployed, fell 214 to 73,191.

Over the past year, payrolls have increased 1,324 or about 1.9 percent. The ranks of the unemployed have dropped 412. The labor force has grown 912, but remains well below a peak force of 84,000 in November 2009.

After a slow start to 2016, the pace of hiring has picked up along with increases in the number of job orders posted at the Mesa County Workforce Center, Englehart said.

For November, 410 orders were posted, up from 325 for the same month last year. The latest number brings the year-to-date total for job orders to 4,805, just 51 less than the same span last year, he said.

Labor demand has been strongest for openings in health care, transportation, office and administrative support and the leisure and hospitality sector, he said.

Meanwhile, 227 initial claims for unemployment insurance were filed in Mesa County during November, down from 369 for the same month last year. A total of 2,813 claims were filled year-to-date for 2016, down from 3,046 for the same span in 2015, Englehart said.

Monthly unemployment rates typically drop in Mesa County toward the end of the year before ticking up in December and then spiking in January at what can be the highest level of the year. That trend can be attributed in part to seasonal hiring and then layoffs after the holidays. But Englehart said he’s hopeful more seasonal jobs will turn into full-time positions.

The latest numbers also make Englehart “cautiously optimistic”  any increases in the jobless rate over the next two months will be smaller. “I’m hoping it will be a very minimual uptick or level off and stay the same,” he said.

Moreover, initiatives under way at the center to improve the pipeline between the local labor pool and employers are starting to show results, he said.

Seasonally unadjusted unemployment rates also edged down in neighboring Western Colorado counties in November, slipping a tenth of a point to 4.4 percent in Delta County, 3.1 percent in Garfield County and 3.4 percent in Montrose County. The jobless rate remained unchanged at 4.2 percent in Rio Blanco County.

The statewide seasonally adjusted unemployment rate fell another three-tenths of a point to 3.2 percent  even though nonfarm payrolls shrank 12,500. A larger increase in total employment than the labor force pushed down the number of people counted among the unemployed as well as the jobless rate.

Over the past year, the statewide jobless rate has dropped three-tenths of a point as nonfarm payrolls have grown 55,300. The biggest job gains have occurred in the education and health services, construction and professional and business services sectors. Employment in mining and logging, which includes oil and natural gas development, has declined.

The average workweek for employees on private, nonfarm payrolls has decreased six-tenths of an hour over the past year to 33.4 hours. Average hourly earnings have decreased 24 cents to $27.03.