Junction unemployment hits 11.1%

Mesa County’s unemployment rate continued to move in the wrong direction in January, when the seasonally adjusted rate climbed to 11.1 percent.

That’s a 0.7 percentage-point increase from December’s unemployment rate and the highest rate recorded at the beginning of the year among Colorado’s seven largest metropolitan areas. The state’s unemployment rate also increased, going from 8.9 percent in December to 9.1 percent in January.

Meanwhile, a Bureau of Labor Statistics report for the eight states in the mountain region showed Colorado, Nevada and Idaho in 2010 recorded their highest unemployment rates since annual jobless rate recordings by state began in 1976.

January usually is a tougher month than December for unemployment as seasonal jobs from the holiday season end, according to Mesa County Workforce Center Supervisor Gilbert Lujan. Still, Lujan said workforce center personnel were surprised how much seasonal hiring appears to have affected January’s unemployment rate.

“We thought it would stay in the 10 percent range,” Lujan said.

In non-seasonally adjusted numbers, Mesa County lost about as many employees as it gained unemployed people in January compared to December. Also, about 1,300 fewer people searched for jobs on Mesa County’s workforce database in January 2011 compared to the previous January, Lujan said, indicating the county hasn’t become any more popular in a year.

January’s seasonally adjusted unemployment rate was until recently the highest reported in Mesa County since 2000, which is the oldest data available from the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment, according to department spokesman Joe Winter.

Winter said an annual revision to the data performed earlier this year, however, made March 2010’s seasonally adjusted rate higher than this January’s.

The revision adjusted the county’s base population in 2010 and changed March 2010’s seasonally adjusted rate from 9.9 percent to 11.7 percent.

There are signs this March will be better than last March, Lujan said. Unemployment increased month-over-month for the first quarter of 2010, but Lujan is optimistic this year will be better because job orders with the Workforce Center reached 200 at the end of February.

Orders had rested in the 120 to 140 range for six months.

Another ray of hope is that initial jobless claims in the county increased from 354 in December to 530 in January, but fell back down to 367 in February.

“Now we have more construction and extraction jobs, too, than last spring,” plus a steady supply of transportation, health care and administrative support jobs, Lujan said. “Those are good signs.”

“Hopefully by the end of March we’ll be back at 9 percent (unemployment) or so.”


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