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Unemployment number down for second straight month

On the heels of last week’s positive economic news — local sales tax revenues up 4.74 percent for February — the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment (CDLE) reported last week that the official U3 unemployment figure for Archuleta County fell for the second straight month, to 12.4 percent: down from 12.7 percent in February and down from 12.8 percent in January.

Unfortunately, January logged the highest unemployment figure for the county in over 22 years. In March 1988, unemployment in the county hit 13.7 percent, the highest it had been since March 1983 when unemployment hit 16.6 percent.

The early 1980s were particularly hard on Archuleta County, with almost three straight years of double-digit unemployment (with a few months in 1981 hitting well over 20 percent for unemployment).

Still too early to tell, March’s unemployment number, combined with February’s sales tax revenue receipts, could suggest that the local economy is beginning to stabilize and could actually be improving.

However, the official U3 number does not represent an accurate picture of unemployment in Archuleta County. The real number of unemployed in the area is almost certainly much higher than the U3 index suggests.

U3 unemployment figures represent only new or active unemployment claims in the county. The U6 number (an alternative measure which includes part-time workers and people who have given up looking for jobs) provides a clearer picture of the number of unemployed workers or workers with part-time jobs who would prefer full-time work. Unfortunately, neither the CDLE nor the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) provide U6 figures at the state or county level, making a broader look at local unemployment almost impossible.

With anywhere from 7-8 percentage points difference between national U3 and U6 numbers, it could be assumed that Archuleta County also has a U6 number that is significantly higher than the reported U3 figure.

If that assumption is valid, real unemployment in the county could be close to 20 percent.

Statewide, the unemployment situation improved after Colorado logged the highest unemployment numbers on record (since the BLS began keeping accurate records in 1976), dropping to 9.2 percent in March from February’s 9.7 percent unemployment number.

The improved numbers for the county and the state reflect the national trend which saw unemployment drop for the fourth straight month, to 8.8 percent in March.

Although the U.S. Labor Department reported last week that jobless claims had edged lower last week — down 13,000 from the previous week — that decline was well below most analyst’s expectations, indicating that the U.S. labor market continues to struggle to recover.

Still, those improved unemployment numbers led to increased consumer confidence in the economy during the month of April.

Last week, the Conference Board reported that the index rose to 65.4 from a revised 63.8 in March. Economists expected a smaller rise to 64.8.

The Conference Board said that last week’s survey reflected easing concerns over inflation and rising gas prices, as well as a positive view of an improved jobs market.

Prior to March, the index had risen for five consecutive months, hitting a three-year high in February. However, the index has far to go before achieving a 90 score, indicating a healthy economy.

Locally, it could be a few months before an optimistic view of the town and county’s economy can be determined. It will be two weeks before the Colorado Department of Revenue releases the sales tax revenue report for March and another four weeks before April’s U3 number will be released for unemployment in Archuleta County.

jim@pagosasun.com

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