Mesa County jobless rate trends downward

Curtis Englehart
Curtis Englehart

Phil Castle, The Business Times

The monthly unemployment rate in Mesa County has dropped to its lowest level of the year even as payrolls and the overall labor force grows.

“Those are two really good signs for us to see,” said Curtis Englehart, manager of the Mesa County Workforce Center in Grand Junction.

Those trends combined with a growing number of permanent job openings in health care and office positions has Englehart more optimistic what’s usually a spike in the jobless rate in January won’t be as severe. “Hopefully, it’ll stay down,” he said.

The seasonally unadjusted unemployment rate fell two-tenths of a point to 4.5 percent in October, according to the latest estimates from the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment. With declines in each of the last four months, the jobless rate has retreated to its lowest level this year. At this time last year, the rate stood at 4.6 percent.

For October, Mesa County payrolls grew 214 to 70,085. The number of people counted among those unsuccessfully looking for work shrank 118 to 3,331. The overall labor force, which includes the employed and unemployed, edged up 96 to 73,416.

Over the past year, payrolls have increased 1,128, or about 1.6 percent. The ranks of the unemployed have edged up 38. The overall labor force has grown 1,166, but remains well below a peak force of 84,000 in November 2009.

The combination of a decreasing monthly unemployment rate and increasing labor force reflects an improving labor market, Englehart said. “We’re on the right track.”

Seasonal hiring for the holidays has helped, he said. But so has hiring for permanent jobs in the health care sector and office and administrative positions. Employment construction has edged up as well.

Because oil and natural gas development has slowed nationwide, more people from Mesa County who worked in the sector have stopped traveling, Englehart said. They’ve returned to look for work at home.

A measure of labor demand slipped in September with 409 job orders posted at the Mesa County Workforce Center. That’s down about 10 percent from the same month last year. With a slow start to 2016, the 4,395 job orders posted at the center through October was about 3 percent less than the same span in 2015.

Meanwhile, 205 initial claims for unemployment insurance were filed in Mesa County during October. That’s up from September, but down 18.3 percent from October 2015. A total of 2,586 claims were filed year to date, down almost 6.9 percent from last year.

Monthly unemployment rates usually drop in Mesa County with seasonal hiring at the end of the year only to spike after the holidays. Englehart said he’s cautiously optimistic an increase in hiring for permanent positions will change that trend.

Meanwhile, seasonally unadjusted unemployment rates edged up a tenth of a point in October to 4.6 percent in Delta County and 3.2 percent in Garfield County. The jobless rate remained unchanged at 3.6 percent in Montrose County and dropped three-tenths of a point to 4.3 percent in Rio Blanco County.

The statewide seasonally adjusted unemployment rate slipped a tenth of a point to 3.5 percent even as nonfarm payrolls grew 6,000.

Over the past year, the jobless rate has inched down a tenth of a point as nonfarm payrolls have increased 64,100. The biggest private-sector job gains have occurred in the construction, leisure and hospitality and education and health services sectors. Employment has declined in the financial activities, manufacturing and mining and logging sectors.

The average workweek for employees on private, nonfarm payrolls has increased four-tenths of an hour to 34.3 hours. Average hourly earnings have increased 20 cents to $27.27.