Mesa County unemployment rate rises up on summer surge of job hunters

Phil Castle
Phil Castle

Phil Castle, The Business Times

The monthly unemployment rate in Mesa County has risen along with a seasonal surge of high school and college students looking for summer jobs.

But the increase in the jobless rate this year was smaller than in past years, offering encouragement labor market conditions are improving.

“The best way to sum up the situation is we’re cautiously optimistic,” said Curtis Englehart, a business development representative at the Mesa County Workforce Center in Grand Junction.

According to the latest estimates from the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment, the seasonally unadjusted unemployment rate in Mesa County ticked up a tenth of a point to 6.5 percent in June. At this time last year, however, the rate was more than two points higher at 8.8 percent.

For June 2014, Mesa County payrolls slipped 34 to 71,460. The number of people counted among those unsuccessfully looking for work increased  71 to 4,959. The overall labor force, which includes the employed and unemployed, ticked up 37 to 76,419.

Over the past year, payrolls have increased 946, while the ranks of the unemployed have decreased 1,825. The labor force has shrunk 879 and remains more than 9 percent below its peak of 84,235 in November 2009.

Englehart said the unemployment rate typically increases in June as high school and college students enter the labor market  in search of summer employment. The latest increase was just a fraction, though, of the larger swings that have occurred in the past two years, he said. “It’s not quite as big a bump as we’ve seen in years past.”

Moreover, other numbers reflect slowly improving labor conditions, he added.

Labor demand as measured by the number of job orders posted at the Mesa County Workforce Center has increased with 309 orders posted during June. That’s a nearly 27 percent increase over the 252 orders posted in June 2013.

Meanwhile, 180 new claims for unemployment benefits were filed in June 2014, down from 217 in June 2013.

Englehart said more jobs are becoming available. He cited as one example a total of 120 full and part-time positions at two travel centers that have opened in Grand Junction over the past two months. “That was great to see those come in.”

The monthly unemployment rate in Mesa County typically falls between June and July, and Englehart said he expects that trend to continue this year.

It’s unclear how much further the jobless rate will fall. But the long-term trends are favorable, he said. “We can definitely be hopeful.”

Seasonally unadjusted unemployment rates fell in four neighboring Western Colorado counties in June: down a tenth to 4.2 percent in Rio Blanco County, down three-tenths to 6.1 percent in Delta County and 6.9 percent in Montrose County, and down a half point to 4.9 percent in Garfield County.

The statewide seasonally adjusted unemployment rate dropped three-tenths of a point to 5.5 percent in June. That’s the lowest level since the rate stood at 5.3 percent in October 2008. The jobless rate stood at 6.9 percent in June 2013.

Nonfarm payrolls grew an estimated 3,000 in June as an increase of 3,300 government positions offset a decrease of 300 private sector jobs. The largest declines were reported in the construction, financial activities and leisure and hospitality sectors.

Over the past year, nonfarm payrolls have increased 66,300 in Colorado with the biggest gains in the professional and business services, education and health services and leisure and hospitality sectors.

The average workweek for employees on private, nonfarm payrolls has slipped a half hour to 35.1 hours over the past year. Average hourly earnings have increased 59 cents to $26.36.