Mesa County labor market holds steady

Phil Castle, The Business Times: 

The Mesa County unemployment rate remains unchanged at 8.5 percent for a third straight month, a flat line on a graph that’s seen as an encouraging indicator of more stability in the local labor market.

“We could be seeing some trends that the whole economic picture is improving …. or at least not getting any worse,” said Suzie Miller, business services manager at the Mesa County Workforce Center in Grand Junction.

According to the latest estimates from the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment (CDLE), the seasonally unadjusted unemployment rate in Mesa County held steady at 8.5 percent in November — the same as October and September.

That leaves the unemployment rate at its lowest level since it stood at an even 8 percent in November 2009. At this time last year, the rate was higher at 10.1 percent.

According to CDLE estimates for November 2011, Mesa County payrolls grew 417 to 71,401. The number of people counted among those unsuccessfully looking for work also increased, but only by 36 to 6,625. With the November gain, payrolls now top the level of last year by 1,214. The overall work force, which includes the employed and unemployed, is only slightly below last year at 78,026.

Another measure of the labor market also offers encouragement, Miller said, in the growing number of job orders posted at the center. Each order usually involves two or three openings and sometimes more.

As of press time on Dec. 20, 115 job orders had been posted at the center, the highest level through the first 20 days of the month since 2007. Year to date through Dec. 20, 2,678 orders have been posted at the center, the highest number since 2008.

Based on job orders, labor demand in Mesa County has returned to prerecession levels, Miller said. That demand remains strongest in the energy sector, followed by job openings in installation, maintenance and repair and positions in office and administrative support, she said. Job prospects are particularly good for skilled laborers, including mechanics and machine operators, she added.

Miller said she looks for continued stability in the labor market into the next year with no big gains or losses, even though unemployment rates typically spike to their highest levels of the year in January. “That’s kind of what we’re seeing. That’s kind of what we’re feeling, too.” Compared to several years of job losses, though, steady looks good, Miller said.

Seasonally unadjusted unemployment rates edged up a tenth of a percent in three neighboring Western Colorado counties in November, climbing to

7.7 percent in Delta County, 7.2 percent in Garfield County and 8.5 percent in Montrose County. The jobless rate was unchanged at 5 percent in Rio Blanco County.

The statewide seasonally adjusted unemployment rate edged down a tenth to an even 8 percent in November. At this time last year, the rate stood at 8.9 percent.

Nonfarm payrolls fell an estimated 4,500 in Colorado in November 2011, according to the latest results of a separate survey of businesses. Employment in the private sector declined 2,900, while government payrolls dropped 1,600.

The largest payrolls declines were in the trade, transportation and utilities; leisure and hospitality; and financial activity sectors. Professional and business services reported the largest job gain.

Over the past year, nonfarm payrolls in Colorado have grown 25,500 with a net gain of 27,300 jobs in the private sector and net loss of 1,800 government jobs.

The largest gains have occurred in the professional and business services, leisure and hospitality and education and health services sectors. The largest declines have occurred in the construction, financial activities and information sectors.

Over the year, the average workweek for employees on private nonfarm payrolls fell more than an hour to 34.4 hours, while average hourly earnings increased 33 cents to $24.19.