Mesa County unemployment rate hold steady

Phil Castle, The Business Times: 

The monthly unemployment rate in Mesa County remains at its lowest level in nearly two years, a sign the labor market could be stabilizing.

“I do think it’s encouraging to see we’re remaining steady,” said Suzie Miller, an employment specialist with 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 remained unchanged in October at 8.5 percent.

That leaves the jobless rate at its lowest level since it stood at an even 8 percent in November 2009. At this time last year, the rate was a full point higher at 9.5 percent.

According to CDLE estimates for October 2011, Mesa County payrolls fell

324 to 70,891. But the number of people counted among those unsuccessfully looking for work also fell —46 to 6,595. Payrolls and the overall work force remain below levels of last year.

What the latest numbers don’t reflect, Miller said, is any large increase in seasonal hiring in preparation for the holiday shopping season. Miller said she suspects that existing full- and part-time employees at some retailers will work extra hours. An increase in online shopping also could be affecting seasonal hiring. “This is not just a huge factor like it used to be,” she said.

Nonetheless, there’s consistent labor demand in other industry sectors, Miller said, in particular transportation and energy.

A total of 217 job orders were posted at the Mesa County Workforce Center in October, up from 206 the same month last year. Through the first 10 months of this year, 2,364 job orders were posted at the center, up from 1,837 through the same span last year and only slightly below the 2,387 job orders posted during the same span in 2008. Each job order usually involves two or three openings and sometimes more.

Based on the number of job orders at the center, Miller said labor demand in Mesa County has rebounded to pre-recession levels. “We’re slowly coming out of this.”

Out of the 170 job orders currently posted at the center, a total of 31 are for openings in the transportation and energy sectors, Miller said.

Labor demand also has increased for installation, maintenance and repair jobs. And employers are having difficulty hiring mechanics, machinists and other skilled technical workers, she added.

Surprisingly, though, demand has dropped off for health care support positions, she said. That could mean there’s not as much growth in the industry to require additional staffing.

Miller said she expects the unemployment rate to remain stable through the end of the year. That could actually consistent a measure of momentum in reducing a seasonal spike in joblessness in January.

Seasonally unadjusted unemployment rates fell in four neighboring Western Colorado counties in October — slipping a tenth to 7.6 percent in Delta County and 7.2 percent in Garfield County and falling two-tenths to 8.4 percent in Montrose County and 4.9 percent in Rio Blanco County.

The statewide seasonally adjusted unemployment rate retreated two-tenths to 8.1 percent. The jobless rate has dropped or held steady in Colorado for eight straight months. At this time last year, the rate stood at 8.9 percent.

Nonfarm payrolls grew an estimated 8,800 in October 2011 as the private sector added 7,900 jobs and government employment increased 900.

The professional and business services, leisure and hospitality and construction sectors reported the largest gains. Manufacturing employment declined.

Over the past year, nonfarm payrolls in Colorado have grown 32,700 with net gains of 31,400 in the private sector and 1,300 in government.

The leisure and hospitality; professional and business services; and trade, transportation and utilities sectors reported the largest gains. The construction, information and financial activities sectors reported the largest declines.