Third quarter economic numbers show Mesa County with the lowest unemployment numbers in years and growing personal income. And nationally, the country’s 3.6% unemployment rate is the lowest it’s been since 1969, according to a quarterly economic update provided by Colorado Mesa University.
“It just keeps going down,” CMU Associate Professor of Economics Nathan Perry said of the unemployment rate. “The national economy keeps surprising.”
Locally, the county’s labor force has increased by 1,442 since the third quarter of 2018, but the number of employed workers has increased by 2,074 over the same period, attributing to the declining unemployment numbers. If fourth quarter numbers continue on the same path, 2019 will be the third consecutive year the county has seen a growth of more than 2,000 jobs.
Mesa County’s seasonally adjusted unemployment rate for the third quarter of 2019 matched the national rate of 3.6%. Colorado’s rate sat at 2.8%. Mesa County’s seasonally adjusted September unemployment rate of 2.5% included the fewest number of unemployed in the county since May 2001, Perry noted.
Total employment in the county is still lower than prior to the Great Recession, but higher than 10 years ago, according to the report.
Quarterly Census of Employment and Wages data for the second quarter of 2019 shows a wage increase of about $45 million and 1,124 jobs compared to 2018. The health care and construction industries showed the biggest gains in employment and wage changes. Both industries include high-paying jobs.
Overall, personal income is up 7.65% and personal income per capita increased by 6.38%. Mesa county grew faster than the state in that regard.
“That is really positive news,” Perry said.
Gross domestic product numbers also rose in 2017 after either demonstrating negative or no growth for the past six years. Perry said the county needed to see that catch up and called the period prior as a “1930s-style local depression.”
Oil, gas and mining jobs declined by 130. The numbers did not include some layoffs that occurred in the third quarter of the year.
Western Slope drilling activity has fallen off as rig counts have decreased from seven a year ago to three in December, the report states. Drilling permits are also trending down. According to QCEW, there are still more than 2,000 oil and gas jobs, but with the decline in rigs, permits and low gas prices, Perry said he could see the county challenging a 2016 low when there were only roughly 1,600 jobs.
West Slope Colorado Oil and Gas Association Executive Director Eric Carlson said the state has slowed down the permitting process for drilling and it’s difficult to predict how long it will take to get a permit.
Couple that with low gas prices and Carlson said he envisions employment numbers continuing to decrease over the course of the next year.
“I think it’s just a challenging time for industry with pricing and fast-moving regulations,” Carlson said.
In real estate, median home sale values increased by 9.75% compared to the third quarter of 2018.
Average home sales grew more than 13% Total building permits are up 13.71%, but single-family home permits are down 9.35%.
That decrease surprised Perry considering the demand for single-family homes.
Bray Real Estate Development Coordinator Kevin Bray said the decrease was largely because of the wet winter in the Grand Valley, particularly when comparing numbers to the dry winter in 2018.
“We had a slow start because we had a real winter,” Bray said. “We lost a little bit of production time.”
Overall, despite predictions that 2019 would be a softer year for the economy, it has not been as soft as expected. The national economy does show some signs of weakness, Perry notes, and some global slowdowns and trade wars bear watching in 2020.