Mesa County labor outlook improves

Phil Castle
Phil Castle

Phil Castle, The Business Times

Time will tell whether or not labor conditions will continue to improve in Mesa County in 2014.

But the outlook at the onset of the new year is better now than it has been in a long time, according to Sue Tuffin, director of the Mesa County Workforce Center in Grand Junction. “We’re going into 2014 in a pretty strong, steady place.”

According to the latest estimates from the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment, the seasonally unadjusted unemployment rate in Mesa County edged down another tenth of a point to 6.9 percent in November.

With declines in each of the last five months, the jobless rate has dropped more than two points to its lowest level since the rate stood at 6.4 percent in January 2009. In November 2012, the rate stood at 8.3 percent.

“We’re definitely going in the right direction,” Tuffin said.

For November 2013, Mesa County payrolls edged up 222 to 72,716 even as the number people counted among those unsuccessfully looking for work slipped 72 to 5,371. The overall labor force, which includes the employed and unemployed, increased 150 to 78,087.

Over the past year, payrolls and the overall work force have declined, but so have the ranks of the unemployed.

Tuffin said the November numbers reflected increasing hiring, although about 40 percent of new hiring was for part-time positions.

Moreover, labor demand as measured by the number of job orders posted at the Mesa County Workforce Center continues to increase, she said.

For November, 337 job orders were posted at the center, a nearly 150 percent increase over the same month in 2012, Tuffin said. Through November, year-to-date job orders totaled 2,943 — 240 more than the same span in 2012.

Labor demand has been strongest for jobs in the transportation sector, including truck driving and dispatch positions, Tuffin said. Demand also has increased for maintenance and repair, office administration and support and sales positions. Demand hasn’t been as strong for construction or extraction jobs, she said. “It’s still not as high as we’d like to see.”

The question of whether or not labor conditions will continue to improve in 2014 will be answered in part when labor estimates for January are reported in February. The unemployment rate in Mesa County historically spikes to the highest level of the year in January as seasonal layoffs follow holiday hiring.

The extent of that spike and how quickly the jobless rate subsequently retreats could set the tone for the rest of the year, Tuffin said.

Meanwhile, more than 800 people in Mesa County have lost unemployment benefits unless congressional action in the new year restores those benefits, Tuffin said.

That makes job searches even more urgent at a time when competition for openings is especially fierce, Tuffin said. It’s important for those looking for work to enlist the assistance of the Mesa County Workforce Center, she added. A job fair set for Feb. 4 at the DoubleTree by Hilton in Grand Junction is expected to feature 40 employers actively recruiting new hires.

For November, seasonally unadjusted unemployment rates edged down a tenth to 7.1 percent in neighboring Delta County and three-tenths to 4.7 percent in Rio Blanco County. The jobless rate ticked up a tenth to 8.4 percent in Montrose County, while holding steady at 5.9 percent in Garfield County.

The statewide seasonally adjusted unemployment rate retreated three-tenths to 6.5 percent, the lowest level since the rate stood at 6.1 percent in December 2008.

Nonfarm payrolls increased 4,200 with gains in both the private and government sectors. The largest increases in employment were reported in the education and health services; manufacturing; and trade, transportation and utilities sectors. The largest decreases were reported in the financial activities and leisure and hospitality sectors.

Over the past year, nonfarm payrolls have increased 46,000 with the most job growth in the construction, education and health care and professional and business services sectors. Employment in the financial activities and information sectors declined.

The average workweek for employees on private, nonfarm payrolls slipped two-tenths of an hour to 34.6 hours over the past year. Average hourly earnings fell $1.70 to $26.07.