Mixed economic news better than bad news

The latest labor estimates as well as the outlook for small businesses affirm once again the necessity of the well-worn wish for the one-armed economist.

One the one hand, the monthly unemployment rate in Mesa County has slipped below 6 percent to its lowest level in almost six years. On the other hand, the local labor pool remains far more shallow than it was before the recession.

One the one hand, conditions appear to be improving for small businesses. On the other hand, uncertainty and weak consumer demand have slowed growth for an important part of the U.S. economy.

If only business news didn’t come with caveats. On the other hand, that news seems on the whole to be getting better rather than worse. And business owners and managers can find some encouragement in that. Moreover, the long-term view is considerably better.

Over the last year alone, the jobless rate in Mesa County has dropped more than two full points — from 7.8 percent in August 2013 to just 5.5 percent in August 2014. During that same span, Mesa County payrolls have grown 1,579 even as the ranks of those counted among the unemployed have diminished 1,808. Here’s still another long-term trend to continue. There were 666 people counted as unemployment insurance recipients in Mesa County in August 2014. Five years ago, that same number topped 2,800.

Still, the overall labor force in Mesa County remains more than 9 percent below its peak in November 2009.

Bill Dunkelberg, chief economist for the National Federation of Independent Business, shared his outlook for small businesses during a presentation in Grand Junction as well as an interview with the Business Times.

Dunkelberg has tracked the small business sector for nearly 40 years and considers recent trends generally hopeful. The NFIB Small Business Optimism Index climbed in August to its highest level in nearly seven years.

Of course, the latest reading remains below the historical average for the index as uncertainty and weak demand have discouraged small business owners from expanding more rapidly, Dunkelberg added.

Clearly, the proverbial glass is at least half full. On the other hand, it’s taking an awful long time for the glass to get any fuller. But on the other hand, at least the glass isn’t empty.