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Jobless numbers continue to fall

A report released last Friday by the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment (CDLE) showed that the local jobless situation continues to improve and is trending towards a summer that could provide good news for area workers.

March unemployment numbers for the county fell 1/10th of 1 percent from February to 10.2 percent for the month.

That figure represents a substantial improvement over years previous: March 2011 unemployment was at 11.1 percent, while that rate in March 2010 was a full 12.4 percent — the highest unemployment rate for the county in over 24 years.

Furthermore, a recent realignment of unemployment numbers based on data from the 2010 census indicates a more substantial improvement in area unemployment than has been previously reported in The SUN.

Over the next several months, readers may notice revisions in previous year’s numbers. That is because both the CDLE and the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) recently revised numbers from the past five years following the incorporation of new data from the 2010 census.

According to Joe Winter, Senior Economist with the CDLE, the mathematical modeling used in the development of month-to-month unemployment figures gets retooled every ten years after census data provides a more accurate picture of local populations.

Revisions applied to county unemployment numbers began with 2011 month-to-month and year-end figures and then were applied to previous years, going back to 2007.

“It’s not just population numbers, but age groups within the labor force numbers,” Winter said on Tuesday. “This is a process that takes us awhile. It takes several years to plug all of it in.”

Indeed, the entire scope of census data is both immense and complex (SUN staff continues to sort through numerous reports released by the U.S. Census Bureau on an almost daily basis) and it will be years before economists, sociologists, political scientists and others fully analyze results from the 2010 census.

In the case of the CDLE, the realignment of unemployment numbers from previous months and years involves (among other things) plugging in new demographic data regarding population subgroups within the Civilian Labor Force (CLF), such as workers aged 16-19 at the low end or workers aged 55 and older.

For example, numbers reported last month for March 2011 were based on assumptions in the CDLE’s mathematical modeling taken from the 2000 census — the most recent data available at that time. Thus, the BLS (which oversees CDLE numbers) reported last month that the March 2011 unemployment rate hit 12.4 percent. After the data realignment and revision conducted earlier this month, that number fell to 11.1 percent based on more accurate assumptions taken from 2010 census data.

As Winter said, the revisions take place every 10 years following the release of each decade’s census results. Therefore, while results from the latest results will inform assumptions of the mathematical models used to calculate unemployment numbers for the county through 2016, in 2022, the BLS will revise unemployment figures for 2017 through 2021 based on numbers reported from the 2020 census.

Given the new data and subsequent revisions, a positive trend in local unemployment numbers becomes clearer and more pronounced.

In the Jan. 26 edition of The SUN, it was reported that, “2011 finished with an average of 10.1 percent unemployment, slightly better compared to 2010’s year-end average of 10.2 percent.”

With the recent BLS revisions, 2010 finished with a slightly lower 10.1 percent year-end rate (the worst year-end average since 1986), but the year-end rate for 2011 fell almost a full percentage point to 9.2 percent.

In fact, the recently revised numbers support analyses reported in SUN articles over the past few months — that the last two quarters of 2011 showed a positive trend in area unemployment with a suggestion that the labor situation in Archuleta County was likewise trending in a positive direction for 2012.

The first quarter of 2012 outperforms the first quarter of the past two years: The 10.1 percent average for this year is significantly better than the 11.9 percent average for 2010 and the 11.3 percent average logged during the first quarter of last year.

Improved jobless figures for March cannot be attributed to declining population in the county: The CLF increased 2.2 percent from February (with 133 workers added to the local labor force) and grew by 4.7 percent from the same month last year.

Still, subtracting out the last two years, the first quarter average for 2012 is the worst since 1993 (which had an average 12.2 percent rate for the first quarter), far below the county’s best first quarter average (in 2000) of 3.8 percent, the rate at which economists deem that “full employment” is occurring.

In fact, the first quarter average for unemployment in the county since 1990 stands at 7.87 percent, indicating that the area has seen better times. Nonetheless, with the first quarter of this year showing vast improvement over the past two years, there is a hint the area could be on its way to the better times.

jim@pagosasun.com

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