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November unemployment numbers rise slightly

Although a Tuesday report from the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment (CDLE) indicated local unemployment numbers rose from 8 percent in October (revised from 8.1 percent, as was reported last month) to 8.7 percent in November, the news is not as bad as it first appears.

First of all, a rise in unemployment for November is expected in Archuleta County: Unemployment figures for November have risen every year since 1976 (when official government unemployment statistics for the area were first accumulated), with the exception of 1983 (when those numbers were flat compared to October that year). In fact, since 1976, unemployment has risen an average of 1.36 percent in November — nearly double the .7-percent rate of increase for this year (from October to November).

Secondly, unemployment figures for November of last year were at 10.3 percent, 1.6 percent higher than this year.

That improvement over last year is a trend that has become evident since July, and November’s numbers this year are the first indication that 2011’s average unemployment could finish better than average unemployment for last year. With November’s CDLE report, the month is the first time this year to suggest that 2011 is on track to finish with a yearly average better than last year’s average — 10.1 percent versus 10.2 percent for 2010.

This year began with a bleed over of dismal unemployment numbers from last year, when those figures were hitting a 24-year high. Unemployment for January through June of this year averaged 11.5 percent while the same time period last year averaged 11.05 percent.

The positive trend for this year becomes apparent when comparing July through November for both years, with last year averaging 9.3 percent for those five months and this year averaging 8.54 percent.

Analysis of unemployment numbers in the county over the past five months suggests a positive trend for area workers.

That analysis is supported by examining the size of the Civilian Labor Force (CLF) in Archuleta County.

A drop in the CLF could artificially improve the unemployment rate. For instance, the good news reported earlier this month that the national unemployment rate had dropped to 8.6 percent (the lowest it had been since March 2009) was tempered by the fact that the nation had dropped more than 350,000 people from the country’s work force.

That was not the case in Archuleta County, with the area adding 337 workers to its CLF in November compared to the same month last year, an increase of 5.6 percent. November was down just .36 percent from October of this year.

Again, a trend has emerged in the last half of this year, indicating a much more robust employment situation in the county. As with this month, October’s CLF increased 6.2 percent from the same month last year, when unemployment was a full percent higher than in October 2010.

Unemployment figures for Archuleta County by the CDLE or Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) are not seasonally adjusted and include only U3 numbers — the total of active or new unemployment claims. The U6 number (a broader measure of unemployment that includes those working part time, but seeking full-time work, as well as those who have given up looking for work, added to the U3 number) is not reported by the BLS or CDLE at the state or county level.

For November, the national U6 measure was 15.6 percent, with 5.7 million Americans having looked for work for more than six months.

The county’s improving employment situation reflects the situation at the state and national level.

Non-seasonally adjusted unemployment numbers for the state are at 7.8 percent, an improvement from November 2010’s rate of 8.9 percent. The seasonally-adjusted rate is 8 percent, also an improvement from last November’s 8.9 percent rate and .6 percent better than the national rate.

Like Archuleta County, the state’s CLF has shown a steady increase this year.

Across the nation, forty-three states and the District of Columbia recorded unemployment rate decreases in November, with three states posting rate increases and four states showing no rate change. November’s national unemployment rate of 8.6 percent was substantially improved from the 9.8 percent rate in November 2010.

Furthermore, the nation showed a decrease in unemployment claims for the past four weeks. Today, the BLS will report the number of claims made this past week, with December unemployment figures for the nation due for release Jan. 6, 2012.

In the meantime, employment is no guarantee of economic security. In September, the Census Bureau reported that the real median income of working-age households declined from $61,600 in 2000 to $55,300 in 2010, also due to slow job growth during the past decade.

Nationally, it appears that market forces are not responding to the growing numbers of Americans falling from the diminishing middle class. However, Congress and the Obama administration appear to have no stomach for using the government to respond to the economic plight of one-in-two Americans.

Locally, it remains to be seen if the improvement in the unemployment situation also means an improvement in the lives of local area workers. Although it appears that more jobs and more residents boosting the CLF suggest a sunnier economic climate in the county, it will be the quality of those jobs — and the amount of corresponding wages — that determine if 2012 will show a significant turnaround in the area’s economy.

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