Jobless rate in Junction finally falls

Last month, Grand Junction experienced its first decline in unemployment all year.

Local unemployment dipped from 9.1 percent in July to 8.7 percent in August, according to seasonally adjusted statistics from the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment.

The state unemployment rate also decreased, from 7.8 percent in July to 7.3 percent in August. In August 2008, the state had a 4.9 percent unemployment rate and Grand Junction had 4.0 percent unemployment.

Whether the unemployment rate decrease will be a one-time dip, the start of a recurring trend or a sign of steady progress remains to be seen, said Mesa State College Business Professor Morgan Bridge. Bridge said February figures will be the most telling signs of recovery because the Christmas shopping season will have passed, seasonal retail jobs will be gone and winter resort work will be winding down.

“Anytime the trend line goes down, it’s good news,” Bridge said.

As for the future trend line of unemployment data, though, she cautioned “there’s some possibility it’s going to be choppy.”

The state unemployment rate dropped for the first time this year in April. The rate then climbed steadily through July before falling again in August.

Grand Junction’s 0.4 percent unemployment rate decrease came as a surprise — although a welcome one — to Mesa County Workforce Center Supervisor Gilbert Lujan. Lujan said the employment increase doesn’t necessarily mean there are more jobs, just that those offering jobs fill them quickly.

“We’re seeing people getting jobs. Not as many as last year, but the ones that are out there are filling up fast,” Lujan said. “We’ve had employers call in an opening and there’s been a couple times a person calls the same day and says ‘Close it, we have enough applicants.’ ”

The number of job-holding Coloradans increased by 4,900 people in August, but the state lost a total of 5,300 jobs in August in non-agricultural payroll positions.

Government jobs in Colorado went up last month by 2,700, mostly because public schools reconvened, and the leisure and hospitality sector added 600 jobs. Industries with the biggest job losses include trade, transportation and utilities (down 2,900 jobs), educational and health services (down 1,900 jobs) and professional and business services (down 1,200 jobs).

Although he’s seen openings for cooks, security officers, retail and customer service agents more frequently than construction or energy industry jobs, Lujan said the bump in hospitality jobs is probably felt more in resort towns.

No one industry is dominating the local job listings, but Lujan said health care positions, especially for in-home care and health assistance, lead the pack.

With 7,800 Grand Junction residents unemployed in August compared to 3,300 a year ago, the workforce center is still keeping busy. Initial unemployment benefit claims decreased from 591 in July to 478 in August. Continued claim rates, however, have remained steady, Lujan said.

Age, lack of skills or education, or an unsavory record can affect a person’s chances of getting a job, Lujan said. But even the best job candidates aren’t guaranteed work.

“Even with a clean record and work experience, the competition is still tough,” he said.

The competition in Denver, Boulder, Colorado Springs and Fort Collins may have contributed to a combined 24,700 people with jobs or searching for jobs leaving those cities. The unemployment rate decreased in those cities despite a total loss of 14,100 workers in those areas.

Grand Junction employment increased by 400 positions, Greeley job numbers went up by 1,500, and Pueblo added 500 jobs to its employment tally. Greeley and Pueblo increased their work force size by 1,100 and 100, respectively. Grand Junction’s 85,100-member work force remained steady.

Colorado lost 8,200 people with jobs or looking for work in August, despite gaining 4,900 workers, because 13,000 Coloradans left the unemployment lines. Another 100 people left the state job market. In August, 210,000 Coloradans looked for work.

Nationally, the unemployment rate increased from July to August, going from 9.4 percent to 9.7 percent, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor and Statistics. Sixteen states recorded unemployment rates at or higher than 9.7 percent in August.

Montana added the most jobs in August — 5,100 — and Texas lost the most jobs — 62,200.
Colorado’s half percent unemployment rate drop is the second-largest drop in the country, behind Indiana’s 0.7 percent drop. 


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