Mesa County update: Jobless rate drops as labor force grows

Phil Castle, The Business Times

Curtis Englehart
Curtis Englehart

The monthly unemployment rate has dropped to its lowest level in nearly a year in Mesa County even as the labor force continues to grow.

It’s a combination that reflects improving conditions, said Curtis Englehart, director of the Mesa County Workforce Center in Grand Junction. “Those two are really good to see.”

According to the latest estimates from the Colorado Department of Labor, the seasonally unadjusted unemployment rate fell a half point to 3.3 percent in April. That’s the lowest level since the rate fell to 2.9 percent in May 2018. At this time last year, the rate stood at 3.7 percent.

“It’s still an improving economy here locally,” Englehart said.

As spring weather heats up, so does activity in the construction sector and other outdoor work as well as the hospitality sector, he said.

For April, Mesa County payrolls increased 597 from the previous month to 74,825. The number of people counted among those unsuccessfully looking for work decreased 364 to 2,539. The labor force, which includes the employed and unemployed, grew 233 to 77,364.

Over the past year, payrolls have increased 2,134 or nearly 3 percent. The ranks of the unemployed have decreased 226. The labor force has grown 1,908.

The number of job orders posted at the Mesa County Workforce Center has declined on a year-over-year, but still accounts for thousands of openings and labor demand across industry sectors, Englehart said.

For April, 610 job orders for a total of 1,305 openings were posted. Job orders fell 16.4 percent from the same month last year. Through the first four months of 2019, 2,412 orders were posted for a similar proportional decrease from the same span in 2018.

Englehart said the comparison isn’t a straightforward one because mild weather last year enabled outdoor work to continue through the winter.

Labor demand remains strong for jobs in health care, manufacturing, hospitality and office and administrative support, Englehart said.

The lower unemployment rate reflects a tightening labor market that makes it more difficult for businesses to recruit qualified employees, he said.

Englehart encouraged businesses to take advantage of services offered at the workforce center, including hiring events as well as programs that offset wages during training to determine if an employee constitutes a good fit.

While the effects of state regulatory changes on the oil and natural gas industry in Colorado aren’t yet known, Englehart said he expects the jobless rate to continue to move lower and the labor force to keep growing in Mesa County. “The numbers are definitely trending in the right direction.”

Seasonally unadjusted unemployment rates also declined in neighboring Western Colorado counties in April: nine-tenths of a point to 3 percent in Montrose County, eight-tenths to 3.4 percent in Delta County, seven-tenths to 4.1 percent in Rio Blanco County and six-tenths to 2.6 percent in Garfield County.

The statewide seasonally adjusted jobless rate slipped a tenth of a point to 3.4 percent as nonfarm payrolls grew 9,500.

Over the past year, the state unemployment rate has increased four-tenths of a point as the number of people looking for work exceeded those reporting themselves employed. Nonfarm payrolls have increased 49,100 with the biggest gains in professional and business services, educational and health services and leisure and hospitality.

The average workweek for employees on nonfarm payrolls has decreased 1.3 hours to 32.6 hours over the past year. Average hourly earnings have increased $1.55 — or nearly 5.4 percent — to $30.34.