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Unemployment down in August

On the heels of last week’s positive economic news for the area — sales tax receipts for July up 3.79 percent from the same month last year and up 6.6 percent this year the same period in 2010 — the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment (CDLE) reported last week that unemployment in Archuleta County fell below 9 percent to 8.7 percent for the month of August.

In fact, August unemployment was the lowest rate since November 2009.

Overall, unemployment in the state remained flat, stuck at 8.5 percent for the third straight month in August. However, that’s down from an historical high 9.3 percent unemployment number logged in February of this year.

Nationally, the unemployment rate remained at 9.1 percent for the second straight month and has hovered just above 9 percent since April when the rate rose from 8.8 percent in March.

September unemployment numbers for the nation are due to be released Oct. 7.

Although the CDLE report was good news for the county’s unemployed, it was not great news. Having fallen from 9.1 percent in July and down from 12.8 percent in January (local unemployment remained above 12 percent through March), 2011 unemployment numbers are on track to reflect a 24-year high.

Local unemployment would have to decrease to around 6.4 percent through the next four months in order to show a year-end improvement over 2010 — highly unlikely given historical trends which show a spike in area unemployment numbers through the winter months.

2010 finished with a 10.2 percent average unemployment number; this year has averaged around 10.8 percent from January through August.

Still, local unemployment numbers since late spring have steadily improved after showing a consistent increase since early 2009, indicating that the jobs situation is slowly improving for area workers.

Several local construction projects addressing town and county infrastructure needs may have added to the area’s improved employment situation. Construction on Lewis Street was sent out to bid with a local hiring preference built into the Request For Proposal.

Work on Lewis Street improvements is expected to continue on through the end of next summer.

Furthermore, the Pagosa Springs Community Development Corporation recently announced the relocation of a new company to the area (see related article) that could further drive unemployment numbers down.

Although it is unknown how much effect investment in infrastructure or attracting new businesses has had on the local unemployment situation, the situation in the town and county appears to mirror the strategy proposed by President Obama earlier this month.

The president’s $447 billion package reduces payroll taxes that employees and small businesses pay, and gives small businesses a tax break for hiring new workers. The proposal also allocates $140 billion for construction projects such as repairing roads and bridges, as well as modernizing schools.

Costs for most of the plan — about $400 billion over 10 years — would be offset by new limits on tax deductions for charitable contributions and other expenditures that are available to individuals making more than $200,000 a year and families making more than $250,000 a year. The rest would come from new limits on deductions for owners of corporate jets, hedge funds and oil and gas companies.

The president’s plan is not expected to be addressed in congress until next month. It is certain that the proposal will face stiff opposition from House and Senate Republicans.

However, while a recent Gallup poll shows that Americans disapprove of the overall job the president is doing by a 52- to 40-percent margin, that same poll showed that 57 percent of Americans who “say they are following news of the bill very closely ”want to see the president’s proposal passed.

Last week’s poll also showed 39 percent of Americans citing unemployment “as the most important problem facing the country,” versus just 12 percent who said that regarding the federal budget deficit.

Overall, the Gallup poll showed Americans want their member of Congress to vote in favor of the president’s jobs bill rather than against it, by a 45- to 32-percent margin.

With most Americans saying that putting people to work trumps budget deficits, October congressional debates could take on an interesting dimension with just a little over a year between those discussions and the general election. Certainly, more than one political fortune will hang on the results of those discussions and the eventual outcome of the vote.

Meanwhile, elected representatives in Pagosa Springs and Archuleta County will no doubt be keeping an eye on the proceedings in Washington and, if the president’s plan passes, whether or not any of that money will make its way to the area — and if that money will make a further dent in local unemployment numbers.

jim@pagosasun.com

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