Mesa County jobless rate trending downward

Phil Castle
Phil Castle

Phil Castle, The Business Times

The unemployment rate in Mesa County has begun to slip even as summer temperatures and the employment that goes with it increases.

Seasonal hiring in landscaping and construction helped pull down the monthly jobless rate a tenth of a percent in May, the beginning of what’s usually a downward trend, said Curtis Englehart, human services administrator with the Mesa County Department of Human Services. “I think we’re going to see that again.”

According to the latest estimates from the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment, the seasonally unadjusted unemployment rate in Mesa County edged down to 5.9 percent in May.

The jobless rate has dropped three-tenths since holding at 6.2 percent in February and March. At this time last year, the rate was slightly higher at an even 6 percent.

For May 2015, estimates for the Mesa County labor force were little changed from April. Payrolls grew 63 to 69,065. The number of people counted among those unsuccessfully looking for work shrank 66 to 4,354. The overall labor force, which includes the employed and unemployed, decreased by just three to 73,419.

Over the past year, payrolls have dropped 251 even as the ranks of the unemployed have fallen 106. The overall labor force has retreated 357 and remains well below peak employment of more than 84,000 in November 2009.

Englehart said the monthly unemployment rate typically slips between April and May in Mesa County, then falls further as the summer progresses and seasonal hiring continues.

Other factors have affected the local labor market this year, though, including layoffs in the energy sector related to lower oil and natural gas prices, Englehart said. Some of those layoffs have occurred outside Mesa County and even Colorado and brought workers back to Mesa County to look for work closer to home. Layoffs also have prompted some spouses who had remained at home to re-enter the work force, he said.

More students are looking for summer jobs, too, Englehart said. A total of 611 students have registered to seek summer employment in Mesa County, up from 532 last year.

Labor demand as measured by the number of job orders posted at the Mesa County Workforce Center in Grand Junction remains mostly steady, Englehart said. A total of 275 job orders were posted during May. That’s 20 below the 295 orders posted during May of 2014. Office and administrative workers, along with sales staff and truck drivers are in the most demand, he said.

Meanwhile, 239 claims for unemployment insurance were filed in Mesa County during May. That’s down from the 319 filings in April, but up from the 182 filings for May of 2014, Englehart said.

Seasonally unadjusted unemployment rates also declined in three neighboring Western Colorado counties during May: down four-tenths to 6.1 percent in Delta County and 5.5 percent in Montrose County and down six-tenths to 5.3 percent in Rio Blanco County. The jobless rate rose two-tenths to 4.8 percent in Garfield County.

The statewide seasonally adjusted unemployment rate edged up a tenth to 4.3 percent after holding at 4.2 percent for five straight months. The increase was attributed to a larger decrease in total employment than the labor force. At this time last year, the state jobless rate stood at 5.2 percent.

Nonfarm payrolls increased 4,900 between April and May 2015 with the largest gains in the financial activities, leisure and hospitality and education and health services sectors. Government payrolls increased 500.

Over the past year, nonfarm payrolls have grown 61,100 with the biggest gains in the education and health services, leisure and hospitality and construction sectors. Government payrolls increased 6,400.

The average workweek for employees on private, nonfarm payrolls has decreased three-tenths of an hour over the past year to 33.8 hours. Average hourly earnings have increased 62 cents to $26.86.