The state and local unemployment rate jumped by 2 percentage points in December, but Colorado labor officials think that could turn out to just be a blip.
Ryan Gedney, senior economist for the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment, said Friday that the increase is likely due to nearly two dozen counties going to a higher “red level” alert on the state’s COVID-19 response dial back in November.
But now that nearly all of those counties have returned to the lesser “orange” level and businesses are opening up more, particularly for restaurants and bars, those unemployment figures should start to rise a bit, Gedney said.
“I would expect some impact for those industries to be able to sit people inside rather than outside,” he said. “Although, I still think the cold weather is going to hold back some of that hiring within the restaurant industry.”
The national unemployment rate remained unchanged over the two-month period, holding steady at 6.7%.
Statewide, the unemployment rate rose to 8.4% in December compared to 6.2% in November, a rate that was determined before 22 counties switched to the red level.
Locally, rates similarly rose, going from November’s 6.2% in Mesa County to 8.2% last month, making it the highest in the six-county region.
Other area counties similarly went up by as much as 2 points. Garfield County went from 5.9% to 7.1%, and Delta County increased to 7.4% from 5.6% in November. Montrose also went to 7.2% in December, and Moffat County continued to have the lowest rate in the region, 6.6% last month from 4.6% in November.
While the state’s labor force — the number of people actively searching for work — grew by 42,000 in December, to 3.2 million statewide, the number of workers actually employed last month decreased by 24,400, according to department figures.
Still, the number of non-farm payroll jobs is down by 150,900 since December 2019. The bulk of that is from the leisure and hospitality sector, Gedney said. Overall, there are 120,100 fewer private sector and 30,800 fewer government jobs over the past year.
Similarly, Grand Junction’s labor force increased by 300 workers, but the number of people with actual jobs went down by nearly 1,170.
Pueblo surpassed Pitkin and Sedgwick counties to lead the state with the highest unemployment rate at 11.3% last month, up from 8.3% in November. Pitkin was one of the few counties to see a decrease in its unemployment rate, going from 10.2% in November to 8.4% last month, possibly due to the start of the ski season, Gedney said.