Lost labor, wages take toll, but uplift seen
Despite recent positive trends in hiring, nearly $73 million in annual wages drained out of Mesa County between 2008 and 2013, a new report compiled by the Mesa County Workforce Center shows.
Workers earned a total of $698.2 million in 2008. By 2013, total wages dropped to $625.6 million. That’s a loss of more than $72.5 million — money that would otherwise circulate in the local economy, said Suzie Miller, Workforce Center business manager.
The combination of a declining workforce and a $9 drop in the average weekly wage was the cause, Miller said.
Earners took home, on average, $811 a week in July, compared to $820 a week in 2008.
“This is a significant loss in wages,” she said. “The fourth quarter in 2013 is the most recent data out that compares wage statistics.”
The most recent report showed a Mesa County labor force of 77,097 in July 2014. In July 2008, it was 83,016, the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment reported.
At a business forum last week featuring U.S. Rep. Scott Tipton, R-Colo., Business Incubator Center Executive Director Jon Maraschin, Grand Junction Area Chamber of Commerce President Diane Schwenke and a small business advocacy group official all argued wages were not a significant factor in the decision 6,000 workers made to leave the county during the last six years.
The Mesa County Manufacturing Council, a group of stakeholders from the local manufacturing sector, meets regularly to review wage and labor numbers and encourage policies that increase manufacturing and the manufacturing workforce, Maraschin said.
The council believes local trades are being paid fair wages, he said.
Fortunately, the local economy has improved significantly since June of 2013, Miller said.
The Mesa County unemployment rate was 8.3 percent in July 2013, compared to 6.5 percent in July 2014, the lowest monthly rate reported since December 2008, she said.
“You have to look at the trends,” Miller said. “You really start to pick up on that when you think, OK, this time last year we were 8.3. Two years ago in July we were 9.6, three years ago, 9.9 and in 2010, it was 10.6 percent.”
Unfortunately, Mesa County continues to endure an unemployment rate more than a point higher than the state’s, which was 5.2 percent in July.
The improved unemployment rate was coupled with a significant increase in job orders at the Workforce Center itself, Miller said.
“Full time job orders as well as regular jobs are going back up in 2014’s second quarter,” she said. “In 2014, temporary jobs are more common than they were in 2008 and the number of part-time jobs remains higher than they did in 2008.”
The increase in temporary and part-time employment may be due in part to the Affordable Care Act, which some economists say encourages business owners to limit the number of full-time employees in order to avoid the legal obligation to buy commercial health insurance, Miller said.
“The total overall job orders are higher than our 2008 numbers, which is a reason to be optimistic. We’re a pretty good harbinger of what’s to come,” Miller said.