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Local unemployment rate increases in June

The labor market in Archuleta County took a hit in June when unemployment rose from 8.8 percent in May (revised up from a preliminary 8.6 percent estimate) to 9.1 percent last month.

In June 2009, the unemployment rate in the county was 8.5 percent. In 2000, unemployment in the county was 3.2 percent — an historical low — while the 22.2 percent rate in 1978 was the record high unemployment rate in the county.

In a report released late last Tuesday from the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment, the state average for unemployment held steady from the previous month at 8 percent.

According to the Department of Labor report, the Civilian Labor Force (CLF) increased in Archuleta County in June by 367 workers.

The CLF is an estimate provided by the U.S. Census Bureau derived from monthly surveys. That survey indicated 6,395 for the June CLF count in the county, up from 6,028 in May. That increase in the CLF most likely accounts for the increase in county-wide unemployment.

In this week’s edition of The SUN, in classified ads (in “Help Wanted” and “Too Late to Classify” sections), 32 available jobs are listed. Of those jobs listed, only three job are permanent, full-time positions not requiring specific skills, experience or certification. Two permanent, full-time jobs required either prior work experience or college degrees.

Also listed were 19 part-time jobs in the service industry (hotels, hospitality and restaurants), while nine part-time jobs were listed that required specific skills, experience or certification. Three jobs were available out of town, one job listed was a temporary position and one job listed offered no wage, but did offer a trade for free rent.

Anecdotally, a position listed in last week’s SUN classifieds — an accounts management position at the Pagosa Area Water and Sanitation District (PAWSD) — has, according to PAWSD assistant manager Shellie Peterson, attracted between 50-60 applications as of press time.

“Surprisingly,” Peterson said, “three-fourths of the applicants are people who are already employed and are either looking to move from part-time to full-time or are just looking for a better job.”

According to Debra Simpson, unemployment technician at the Colorado Workforce Center in Pagosa Springs, the center listed only seven unique employment opportunities not listed in The SUN, five of which were part-time positions.

Simpson added she doesn’t believe that the Department of Labor’s 9.1 percent figure represents the true unemployment situation in Archuleta County, stating that self-employed construction workers and private business owners, ineligible for unemployment, would not be listed in the Department of Labor’s report.

“We all know construction hasn’t done anything this year,” Simpson said. “There’s a lot more unemployed people out there.”

As always, 9.1 percent — the so-called U3 number — does not represent the entire employment picture. The U3 number, after all, merely represents the number of workers who have either filed for unemployment benefits or have active benefit claims. The U6 number includes U3 figures, but adds in the number of workers working part-time but desiring full-time work, as well as the number of temporary workers seeking permanent work, along with workers who have stopped looking for work because they believe that no work is available for them.

Unfortunately, the U6 calculation is only made at the national level. In June, the U6 fell slightly to 16.5 percent from 16.6 percent in May and 17.1 percent in April.

While the U6 number is unknown in Archuleta County, it can be assumed that the figure is much higher than the 9.1 percent provided by the Department of Labor given the fact that, in 2007, construction and related sectors, along with real estate, accounted for a full 37 percent of the county’s economy (according to a 2009 Region 9 Economic Development District report).

Given that understanding the true unemployment situation locally is elusive at best, some reasonable assumptions can be made.

Given the available numbers (unemployment, jobs listed at Colorado Workforce and in The SUN), and accounting for workers not listed in the county’s 9.1 percent U3 number — the difference between the national U3 and U6 number, which is 42 percent — along with jobs not listed in The SUN or with Colorado Workforce, it can be roughly estimated that there are 15 applicants for every available job, both in and out of the county (but within reasonable driving distance). Worse yet, using the same estimates, it appears that 24 applicants exist for every one permanent, full-time job.

Locally, these estimates provide little comfort for the unemployed.

Nonetheless, despite reporting an increase in traffic and claims at Colorado Workforce, Simpson said that she has seen an increase in hiring over the past few weeks, mostly in the service sector.

A bustling tourist season in Archuleta County has appeared to provide some temporary relief for some unemployed workers. However, once tourist season ends, it remains to be seen if Colorado Workforce will be able to assist those workers laid off as the service industry enters its seasonal lull.

Nationally, unemployment claims remained steady at 9.5 percent for June — the U3 number. However, by July 17 state unemployment benefits rose 37,000 to a seasonally adjusted 464,000 as the country continued to exhibit a moribund labor market.

The U.S. Department of Labor will release unemployment statistics today for the week ending July 24.

The Colorado Department of Labor and Employment will release July’s unemployment statistics for Archuleta County in mid-August.

jim@pagosasun.com