Mesa County labor numbers offer encouragement

Curtis Englehart
Curtis Englehart

Phil Castle, The Business Times

The monthly unemployment rate in Mesa County has retreated to its lowest level in a year even as increases in payrolls and the overall labor force offer encouragement local conditions could be improving.

“It looks like a pretty good month for us,” said Curtis Englehart, manager of the Mesa County Workforce Center in Grand Junction.

The seasonally unadjusted unemployment rate in Mesa County dropped six-tenths of a point to 4.7 percent in September, according to the latest estimates from the Colorado Department of Labor. With declines in each of the last three months, the jobless rate has dropped to its lowest level since it stood at 4.7 percent in September 2015.

For September 2016, Mesa County payrolls increased 1,202 to 69,870. The number of people counted among those unsuccessfully looking for work decreased 367 to 3,449. The overall labor force, which includes the employed and unemployed, rose 835 to 73,319.

Engelhart said the monthly jobess rate has historically dropped in Mesa County between August and September, a decline he attributed in part to the return of students attending Colorado Mesa University and Western Colorado Community College. “I think they’re correlated.”

Students not only assume jobs, but local businesses increase hiring to accomodate increased business, Englehart said.

A spike in the jobless rate between May and June likely is related to the exodus of students at the end of the term, he added.

Over the past year, Mesa County payrolls have grown 939, or nearly 1.4 percent. The ranks of the unemployed have edged up 51. The overall work force has increased 990, but remains well below a peak force of 84,000 in November 2009.

A measure of labor demand picked up in September with 420 job orders posted at the Mesa County Workforce Center, Englehart said. That’s about 10.4 percent more than the same month last year. The September increase follows a 9 percent gain in August. “We’re picking up some really good traction.”

Demand has been highest for jobs in the health care and transportaiton sectors as well as for sales and office administration positions, Englehart said.

With a slow start to 2016, however, the 3,985 job orders posted year to date remain about 19 percent lower than 2015, he said.

Meanwhile, 182 initial claims for unemployment insurance were filed in Mesa County during September, down 29 percent from the same month last year. A total of 2,381 claims were filed year to date, more than double the claims for the same span in 2015.

With college students back for the fall term, holiday hiring starting early and programs under way to promote economic development and better match job openings with job seekers, Englehart said he’s upbeat. “We’ve got some really cool things in place to make the local economy stronger.”

Seasonally unadjusted unemployment rates also fell in neighboring Western Colorado counties in September, down two-tenths of a point to 4.5 percent in Delta County and 3.1 percent in Garfield County, down three-tenths of a point to 3.6 percent in Montrose County and down a half point to 4.6 percent in Rio Blanco County.

The statewide seasonally adjusted jobless rate fell two-tenths to 3.6 percent, although nonfarm payrolls fell 300.

Over the past year, the state unemployment rate has held steady even as nonfarm payrolls have increased 69,200. The biggest job gains have occurred in the construction, leisure and hospitality and education and health care sectors. Mining and logging employment has declined.

The average workweek for employees on private, nonfarm payrolls has slipped three-tenths of an hour to 33.6 hours. Average hourly earnings have edged down a penny to $26.80.