Mesa County jobless rate trends downward

Phil Castle, The Business Times

Curtis Englehart

The unemployment rate continues to decrease in Mesa County along with the number of people counted among those unsuccessfully looking for jobs.

At the same time, businesses struggle to fill job openings, said Curtis Englehart, director of the Mesa County Workforce Center in Grand Junction. “We’re definitely hearing that. It’s definitely across all industries.”

According to the latest estimates from the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment, the seasonally unadjusted unemployment rate dropped seven-tenths of a point to 6 percent in May. 

The jobless rate has retreated in each of the last four months to a total of two points below the 8 percent rate in January. A year ago, when the labor market bore the full brunt of the COVID-10 pandemic and related restrictions, the jobless rate stood at 10.9 percent.

For May 2021, Mesa County payrolls edged down eight to 71,433. But the ranks of the unemployed decreased more — 589 to 4,558. The labor force, which includes the employed and unemployed, declined 597 to 75,991.

Compared to pandemic conditions a year ago, payrolls increased 5,555, the ranks of the unemployed decreased 3,521 and the labor force grew 2,034.

While Englehart said he’s grateful the unemployment rate continues to trend down, the labor market is tighter than a 6 percent rate indicates as demand outpaces supply.

The number of job orders posted at the Mesa County Workforce Center, one measure of labor demand, has doubled compared to a year ago, he said. For May, 1,169 orders were posted. That contrasts with the 421 orders posted during the same month last year. For the five-month span between January and May this year, 4,507 orders were posted. For the same span last year, 2,245 orders were posted.

While demand remains strongest in health care, Englehart said businesses in every sector have posted orders. “Everyone’s hiring.”

Some people have been reluctant to return to the work force in part because of a $300 federal stipend added to weekly unemployment benefits, he said.

Other factors or a combination of factors could affect the market, he said. More will become clear when the federal stipend expires in September. “We’re all anxious to see what that looks like.”

Englehart said he expects the unemployment rate to continue to trend downward — and hopes more people will fill job openings to speed the decline.

Seasonally unadjusted unemployment rates also dropped in neighboring Western Colorado counties in May — three-tenths of a point to 5.4 percent in Garfield County, four-tenths of a point to 5.2 percent in Montrose County, six-tenths of a point to 5.1 percent in Rio Blanco County and seven-tenths of a point to 5.1 percent in Delta County.

The statewide seasonally adjusted jobless rate slipped two-tenths of a point to 6.2 percent as nonfarm payrolls increased 17,100 between April and May. Employment increased 14,400 in the leisure and hospitality sector; 3,300 in trade, transportation and utilities; and 2,600 in professional and business services. Job losses occurred in other sectors.

Over the past year, nonfarm payrolls increased 188,600. Over the past 13 months, Colorado has regained 265,200 of the 375,800 jobs lost between February and April of 2020. The largest gains occurred in the leisure and hospitality; trade, transportation and utilities; and education and health services sectors.

The average workweek for employees on private, nonfarm payrolls lengthened four-tenths of an hour over the past year to 33.9 hours. Average hourly earnings increased 37 cents to $31.79.