Incomes fall faster in GJ than rest of U.S.

Grand Junction had the biggest year-over-year drop in personal income last year among the nation’s 366 metropolitan areas, according to data released Tuesday by the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis.

Every metropolitan area in the United States experienced an increase in personal income in 2010 compared with 2009 except for Grand Junction and three Nevada cities.

Personal income includes the money a person makes from a job, property ownership and payments such as unemployment and Social Security benefits.

Personal income earned in Grand Junction dropped 0.9 percent year-over-year to $5.038 billion in 2010. Income from rent, interest and dividends increased $11 million year-over-year, and benefit payments jumped $77 million. But Grand Junction workers took home $134 million less in net earnings in 2010 than they did in 2009.

The earnings decline can be attributed to both fewer jobs and lower hourly wages in the Grand Valley, according to Sue Tuffin, director of the Mesa County Workforce Center.

“When there were more jobs almost than there were people to fill them, employers would pay more an hour. Now that the economy has turned, they’ve been able to drop salaries,” Tuffin said.

Gilbert Lujan, business development consultant for Express Employment, confirmed employers are paying less. He said Express, which places people in temporary employment positions, asks employers to pay at least $10, although sometimes the employers would rather shell out $9 an hour.

“Some may see it as a $1 difference, but it’s a big difference to people who may get $12 an hour on unemployment,” Lujan said.

As wages declined, so did the number of people earning them. The average number of employees in the Grand Junction metro area declined by 4,006 people to 70,523 in 2010 compared with 2009, according to the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment.

Some of the 4,000-plus people who left the employment roster lost or quit their jobs. But a modest, 530-person increase in the area’s unemployment tally year-over-year indicates at least some people moved away for work in other states.

Other states could lure former Grand Junction workers because they went into the recession sooner and came out of it sooner than Grand Junction, according to Grand Junction Area Chamber of Commerce President and Chief Executive Officer Diane Schwenke. It’s Grand Junction’s delayed entrance and exit from the recession, she said, that likely landed Grand Junction at the top of personal income decline list.

“We’re not that much worse than anyone else, it’s just that we’re experiencing the same problems later” than other metro areas, she said.

Schwenke said there are signs 2011 will be a better year than 2010, including an increase in chamber ribbon cuttings at new businesses and an uptick in manufacturing activity because that industry responds more to national than local trends.

But there are some bad signs, too, including turmoil in the financial industry, which also responds more to national than local trends. In addition, a majority of local businesses aren’t hiring more than one or two people at a time until they can be certain the economy will improve.

“I see some positive signs out there, but on the other hand, I see other things dragging us down,” Schwenke said.

Tuffin said there are more jobs posting on an average day with the workforce center in 2011 than there were in 2010 and unemployment income is likely to decrease as more people run out of benefits, move away or find a job. But she doesn’t expect new jobs to pay more by the end of the year.


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