Mesa County labor activity heating up

As the weather warms, the jobless rate drops in Mesa County.

“It’s something that traditionally happens during this time of year,” said Gilbert Lujan, supervisor of the Mesa County Workforce Center in Grand Junction.

Seasonal hiring and increased activity in such industry sectors as construction helped pull down the unadjusted unemployment rate in the county to 11.2 percent in March, Lujan said. While expected, he said the trend is welcomed nonetheless. “It’s something good to see considering how high the unemployment rate has been.”

At this time last year, the benchmarked jobless rate stood at 12.1 percent, one of the highest levels in decades.

Lujan expects the trend to continue through the spring and summer, although he’s less optimistic monthly jobless rates will dip below double digits before heading back up in the fall and winter.

According to the latest estimates from the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment (CDLE), the employed work force in Mesa County edged up 89 to 68,971 while the number of people counted among those unsuccessfully looking for work fell 392 to 8,656.

In March 2010, the employed work force and number of unemployed both were higher by about 1,000 at 69,866 and 9,596, respectively.

Lujan said labor market conditions have improved in Mesa County since the jobless rate hit 11.9 percent in January.

The number of job applicants registered at the workforce center has declined to 8,600 as of April 19, he said, although that figure also reflects people who’ve gone to college or simply stopped looking for work. While still others probably have moved away, it’s difficult to track that number, he added.

Meanwhile, the number of job orders posted at the center had increased to 185 as of April 19 with increasing demand for positions in the construction, extraction, production, sales and transportation sectors, Lujan said. Demand remains steady in the health care sector.

Lujan expects hiring to increase and the monthly jobless rate to fall or hold steady through spring and summer before likely trending back up in fall and winter. He doesn’t expect unemployment to slip below 10 percent, though.

For March, unadjusted unemployment rates also fell in four neighboring Western Colorado counties: down nine-tenths to

10.4 percent in Delta, County, down a tenth to 10.7 percent in Garfield County and down two-tenths to 12.8 percent in Montrose County and 7.4 percent in Rio Blanco County.

The statewide seasonally adjusted unemployment rate slipped a tenth to 9.2 percent in March as nonfarm payrolls in the state rose by 500. The jobless rate is determined by the results of monthly surveys of households, while payroll estimates are based on monthly surveys of businesses and are generally considered a more reliable indicator of labor trends.

A net gain of 1,100 government jobs offset a net loss of 600 jobs in the private sector. While manufacturing employment increased in March, professional and business services as well as the construction sector reported job losses.

Over the past year, the unemployment rate in Colorado has edged up two-tenths from 9 percent.

Over the same span, nonfarm payrolls in Colorado have increased 11,100 with a net gain of 14,200 jobs in the private sector and a net loss of 2,100 government positions. The largest job gains occurred in the education and health services, leisure and hospitality and professional and business service sectors. The largest declines occurred in the construction, financial activities and information sectors.

For March, the average workweek for employees on private nonfarm payrolls edged up a half hour to 34 hours. Average hourly earnings rose 12 cents to $23.88.