Mesa County jobless rate trends up

Curtis Englehart
Curtis Englehart

Phil Castle, The Business Times

The unemployment rate continues to trend upward in Mesa County, although 2017 ended better than it began.

The jobless rate is expected to once again spike in January, but perhaps less than in years past.

“I still think we’re seeing some positive results in our local economy,” 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 climbed to 4.3 percent in December. That’s six-tenths of a point higher than November, but still a tenth of a point lower than this time last year.

For December 2017, Mesa County payrolls edged down 484 to 69,885. The number of people counted among those unsuccessfully looking for work rose 424 to 3,151. The overall workforce, which includes the employed and unemployed, slipped 60 to 73,036.

Over the past year, payrolls have increased 2,049 — or about 3 percent. The ranks of the unemployed have remained nearly unchanged, falling just six. The overall labor force has grown 2,043, or nearly 2.9 percent, but remains below the peak level of 84,000 in 2009.

Englehart said the December numbers reflect seasonal layoffs as the holiday shopping season wound down in December. Seasonal hiring and layoffs affect monthly jobless rates, but proportionally more when unemployment levels are lower.

The number of job orders posted at the Mesa County Workforce Center — a measure of labor demand — continues to increase. For December, 586 orders were posted, a nearly 65 percent increase for the same month in 2016. For all of 2017, a total of 7,654 job orders were posted. That’s a jump of 48 percent over 2016.

Labor demand has remained strongest for jobs in construction, health care, office administration and transportation, Englehart said.

Meanwhile, 205 initial claims for unemployment insurance were filed in Mesa County during December, up from November and a year ago. For all of 2017, 2,155 claims were filed. That’s down 27.4 percent from 2016.

The monthly jobless rate historically spikes in January to its highest level of the year — 5.8 percent in 2017. Englehart said he expects an increase in 2018, although not as big.

Seasonally unadjusted jobless rates rose a half point in three neighboring Western Colorado counties in December to 4.1 percent in Delta and Rio Blanco counties and 3.5 percent in Montrose County. The jobless rate edged up a tenth of a point to 3.1 percent in Garfield County.

The statewide seasonally adjusted unemployment rate increased two-tenths of a point to 3.1 percent, although nonfarm payrolls increased 5,100.

Over the past year, the statewide jobless rate has ticked up a tenth of a point even as nonfarm payrolls have swelled 53,200. The biggest job gains occurred in the construction, leisure and hospitality and professional and business services sectors.