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Unemployment rate drops in Pagosa Country

A report released last Friday by the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment (CDLE) showed the local unemployment rate down half of a percentage point from April (9.2 percent last month), and an initial glance might suggest that the jobless situation in Archuleta County has shown substantial improvement.

However, that improvement over the year (just 1/10th of 1 percent from May 2011) suggests that the area, like most of the rest of the U.S., has experienced an economic slowdown.

In fact, the May 2011 9.3 percent unemployment number was an improvement of 0.8 percent, a more robust recovery from the previous month.

Nevertheless, 2012 remains on track to show an improving employment situation for the county. By May 2010, average unemployment for the first five months of that year stood at 11.16 percent, improving to an average rate of 10.68 percent for the same time period in 2011. For this year, that five-month average is 9.92 percent.

While May 2012 unemployment numbers are far from good news — a rate of less than 5 percent is the commonly accepted benchmark for indicating “full employment” — the May rate was higher due to more local residents participating in the workforce.

Last Friday’s CDLE report showed that the county’s Civilian Labor Force (CLF), the number of residents over the age of 16 and eligible to work, rose by 4.7 percent in May over last month and 2.6 percent over the same month last year.

While local unemployment improved in May for the area as those rates worsened statewide and nationally, the county rate remains much higher than the 8.1 percent reported for all of Colorado by the CDLE and the 8.2 percent for the country reported two weeks ago by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).

If historic trends are any indication, however, local jobless numbers should improve after June, showing better employment numbers than both state and nationwide averages.

For Colorado the CDLE reported last Friday an unemployment rate increase of 2/10ths of 1 percentage point over the month to 8.1 percent. According to that report, the increase in unemployment rate was due to the increase in the number of people participating in the labor force.

Likewise, the BLS reported earlier this month that the national unemployment rate increased 1/10th of a percentage point over the same period to 8.2 percent, also due to an increase in the CLF.

Over the year, the unemployment rate in Colorado is down 3/10ths of 1 percentage point from 8.4 percent in May 2011.

Again, although the national unemployment rate saw a slight rise in May, it declined from 9 percent in May 2011, showing an over-the-year improvement.

A number of factors have been associated with the apparent slowdown of the nation’s economy.

Last week, the Commerce Department reported that retail sales in the U.S. fell in May for a second straight month. That 0.2-percent decrease in May matched April’s drop, prompting economists to cut forecasts for economic growth as increased unemployment numbers and dismal income gains appeared to inhibit consumer spending.

With retail sales accounting for about 70 percent of the economy, many domestic manufacturers and retail outlets have put the brakes on hiring. Compounded by the smallest wage gains reported in a year, sales (excluding car dealerships) slumped by the most in two years.

Unfortunately, U.S. retailers could be waiting for quite some time before Americans feel confident enough to break out their wallets, as years of recession have led to diminished net worth and corresponding penurious spending habits.

On Monday, the U.S. Census Bureau reported that median household net worth declined 35 percent between 2005 and 2010, from $102,844 to $66,740 (in 2010 constant dollars).

Monday’s report showed that older households experienced the largest decline in net worth, with householders 65 and older seeing a decrease in net worth from $195,890 to $170,128. For households under 35, the decrease was from $8,528 to $5,402.

Median net worth decreased for all age groups during that time period.

In percentage terms, younger households fared much worse with a 37-percent decline for younger householders and a 13-percent decline for older ones.

The 35 to 44 age group had the largest percent decline in median net worth of any age group, showing an astounding 59-percent drop from 2005 to 2010.

Monday’s report also showed an increasing disparity associated with education levels. For instance, the Census Bureau reported that, in 2000, wage earners with a bachelor’s degree had a median net worth value almost twice as large as those with a high school diploma, a number had risen to almost three and one-half times as large by 2010.

Likewise, Monday’s report showed that, while earners with a graduate or professional degree held a 3.5 to 1 ratio of net worth over those with just a high school diploma, that ratio increased to 5.8 percent in 2010.

Monday’s report showed that more education is associated with higher net worth. In 2010, those with a graduate or professional degree had a median net worth of $245,763, while the median net worth of those with a high school diploma only was $42,223. Those with a bachelor’s degree had a median net worth of $142,518.

Still, during the period between 2005 and 2010, all educational groups experienced declines, with those holding a high school diploma seeing their median net worth fall 39 percent and those with a bachelor’s degree experienced a 32-percent decline.

Monday’s U.S. Census Bureau data release, along with last week’s Commerce Department report and the early May BLS figures, appear to suggest that economic recovery could be a long, protracted and painful process for most Americans.

If history is any indication, fortunes for Archuleta County are closely tied to the state’s and the rest of the country.

jim@pagosasun.com

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