Mesa County jobless rate up, but so is labor demand

What could be a seesaw pattern of small changes in the monthly unemployment rate in Mesa County edged up in March.

But even as the jobless rate climbed two-tenths to 9.5 percent, labor demand in the county as tracked by a separate measure remains at its highest level since before the recession.

Suzie Miller

“Things are improving, but very slowly,” said Suzie Miller, business services manager at the Mesa County Workforce Center in Grand Junction. Compared to this time last year, the unemployment rate is more than a point lower and the overall work force has grown more than 500, Miller said.

According to the latest estimates from the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment, the seasonally unadjusted jobless rate in Mesa County rose to 9.5 percent in March. The gain continues a seesaw pattern in which the jobless rate spiked at 9.6 percent in January before falling in February and then rising in March.

For March, Mesa County payrolls slipped 179 to 71,524 while the number of people counted among those unsuccessfully looking for work rose 133 to 7,503. The overall labor force, which includes the employed and unemployed, dipped 46 to 79,027.

Compared to March 2011, payrolls have increased 1,438 even as the number of unemployed has decreased 882. The overall labor force has grown 556 over the past year. Labor demand as measured by the number of job orders posted at the center remains at its highest level since 2008, Miller said.

Through April 20, 887 job orders had been posted at the center so far in 2012. That’s the highest number of orders for that span since 2008, which Miller considers the prerecession benchmark. Each job orders usually involves two or three openings, sometimes more.

While the jobless rate might change from month to month, Miller said she’s encouraged by the long-term trend in job orders. “That’s not changing, and that’s a good sign.”

Job openings are spread out among a number of industry sectors, Miller said, among them extraction and construction, installation and repair, office and administration, production and transportation.

Federal regulations associated with an extension in unemployment benefits that include individual reviews of job search histories will encourage those looking for work to become more engaged in the process or risk losing benefits, Miller said. That’s likely to translate into more competition for openings and more choices for employers, she said.

Seasonally unadjusted unemployment rates also edged up in two neighboring Western Colorado counties in March — three-tenths to 8.7 percent in Garfield County and a tenth to 6 percent in Rio Blanco County. The jobless rate retreated two-tenths to 8.6 percent in Delta County and held steady at 11.1 percent in Montrose County.

The statewide seasonally adjusted jobless rate remained unchanged at 7.8 percent for a third straight month. Nonfarm payrolls increased an estimated 2,600 in March with gains in the education and health services, leisure and hospitality and manufacturing sectors.

Over the past year, the statewide unemployment rate has dropped seven-tenths of a percent as nonfarm payrolls have grown 45,800. The largest private-sector job gains have occurred in the education and health services, leisure and hospitality and professional and business services sectors.

The average workweek has increased four-tenths of an hour to 34.3 hours, while average hourly earnings have increased 29 cents to $24.16.