Mesa County labor update: jobless rate down, labor force up

Curtis Englehart
Curtis Englehart

Phil Castle, The Business Times

The unemployment rate continues to drop and the labor force keeps growing in Mesa County as a more diversified economy drives improving conditions.

“That’s what we like to see,” said Curtis Englehart, director of the Mesa County Workforce Center in Grand Junction.

According to the latest estimates from the Colorado Department of Labor, the seasonally unadjusted unemployment rate fell six-tenths of a point to 4 percent in March. With decreases in each of the last two months, the jobless rate has retreated to its lowest level since November. The rate stood at 4.3 percent at this time last year. “That’s a very good sign for the first three months of 2018,” Englehart said.

For March 2018, Mesa County payrolls increased 553 to 72,006. The number of people counted among those unsuccessfully looking for work decreased 489 to 2,993. The overall labor force, which includes the employed and unemployed, edged up 64 to 74,999 — just one shy of the 75,000 milestone.

Over the past year, payrolls have grown 2,417 as the ranks of the unemployed have dropped 124. The labor force has grown 2,293, or nearly 3.2 percent, but remains below the peak of 84,000 in 2009.

Englehart said there’s been increased labor demand across industry sectors — including not only such seasonal sectors as construction and leisure and hospitality, but also health care, manufacturing and transportation.

A total of 803 job orders were posted at the Mesa County Workforce Center in March, a 42.6 percent increase over the same month last year. For the first quarter of 2018, 2,156 job orders were posted. That’s a nearly 43 percent increase over the same span in 2017.

Meanwhile, 140 initial claims for unemployment insurance were filed in Mesa County in March, a 15 percent drop from the same month last year. For the first quarter of 2018, 551 unemployment claims were filed. That’s a decline of 6 percent from the first quarter of 2017.

Englehart said he expects the jobless rate to continue to trend downward in Mesa County even as the labor force grows. A tightening labor market will make it more difficult for employers to find qualified applicants, he said.

But at the same time, the combination of improving labor conditions and the local lifestyle attracts more people to Mesa County, he added.

The seasonally unadjusted unemployment rate also declined in four neighboring Western Colorado counties in March: down four-tenths of a point to 4 percent in Montrose County, down a half point to 3.1 percent in Garfield County and 4.1 percent in Rio Blanco County and down seven-tenths of a point to 4.1 percent in Delta County.

The statewide seasonally adjusted jobless rate held steady at 3 percent as nonfarm payrolls increased 5,400 and the number of people looking for work increased 7,400.

Over the past year, the statewide jobless rate has edged up four-tenths of a point from 2.6 percent. Nonfarm payrolls have swelled 62,200 with the largest gains in the construction; leisure and hospitality; and trade, transportation, and utilities sectors.

The average workweek for Colorado employees on private, nonfarm payrolls has increased a half hour over the past year to 33.4 hours. Average hourly earnings have increased $1.12 to $28.38.