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Slight drop in local unemployment

While Colorado’s unemployment situation worsened slightly in August — up two-tenths of a percentage point from the previous month — the situation in Archuleta County showed a slight improvement, falling from July’s revised 9 percent to 8.8 percent last month, according to a report released by the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment (DLE) on Tuesday.

The same report also reflected a drop in the Civilian Labor Force (CLF) in the county during August, with 45 fewer workers counted in the CLF, a change of -.7 percent. Statewide, the civilian labor force has declined 33,500 since August 2009, but increased slightly last month from July.

The CLF counts the total of adults in a population over the age of 16 who are either working or are looking for work.

Despite the unemployment situation leveling out in the county, there is considerable room for improvement. Unemployment numbers remain well above the county’s average unemployment in 2009 (8 percent for the year) and are almost a full point higher than the 7.2 percent unemployment number for August 2009.

“Any time you see numbers like that, it’s scary; it’s a real cause for concern,” said Steve Vassallo, executive director of the Pagosa Springs Economic Development Corporation (CDC). “It makes our focus here for Economic Development even more diligent.”

Interestingly, the Four Corners area presented a mixed bag for unemployment, with the lowest rate in the state at 2.9 percent in Hinsdale County and the highest being 14.5 percent in Dolores County. Overall, unemployment decreased in 43 of Colorado’s 64 counties, increased in 9, and remained unchanged in 12 counties.

Nationally, the unemployment rate rose to 9.7 percent in August, up two-tenths of a percent from the previous month. That situation could present huge problems for the Democrats in November as voters express frustration with an economy that has shown little improvement and unemployment continuing to hover around 10 percent. In fact, in a town hall meeting on Monday, President Obama faced a number of questions and comments that clearly expressed dissatisfaction with how the economy has fared under his administration’s watch.

In the town hall meeting, President Obama acknowledged that, contrary to a report on Monday released by The National Bureau of Economic Research stating that the recession ended in June 2009, “(O)bviously for the millions of people who are still out of work, people who have seen their home values decline, people who are struggling to pay the bills day to day, it’s still very real for them.”

Looking to boost further economic stimulus and foster employment, the Senate passed The Small Business Jobs and Credit Act last week, a $43.5 billion bill meant to provide tax credits and provide loans for businesses looking to expand and hire. The bill contains no provisions encouraging big banks to free up credit for small business lending (an ongoing problem throughout the recession) and the definition of “small businesses” has been applied broadly (to include lawyers, doctors and hedge fund managers, as well as movie stars and athletes).

Indeed, some analysts have criticized the bill as not going far enough to assist businesses lacking the cash flow to invest in expansion, with others stating the bill is an invitation to fraud; the administration claims the act will lead to the creation of 500,000 jobs in the next few months, with more jobs expected as business expansion takes hold.

With sustained high unemployment, however, another criticism of the bill could be that, with few Americans in a position to afford goods and service, the latest stimulus bill could fall flat as small businesses struggle to find a sustainable customer base.

Until President Obama signs the bill, it remains to be seen how effective The Small Business Jobs and Credit Act will be for the economy. In the meantime, the administration has received mixed news during the last week, with the good news a potential indication of a bleak economic future.

The good news was that housing starts jumped 10.5 percent in August, the largest gain in over five months. However, that increase was due largely to a 32 percent surge in construction of multifamily units, with single family units increasing just 1.8 percent, an indication of a market catering more towards renters and away from single-home buyers.

The bad news was included in a report released last week by the U.S. Census Bureau showing that the nation’s poverty rate jumped 14.3 percent last year, placing one in seven Americans, 43.6 million total, at or below the poverty level.

The same Census report indicated that 51 million Americans are also without health care, an increase of over 4 million since the last report.

Most analysts agree that the dramatic increase of Americans living in poverty and without health care is due in large part to the jobless situation and the subsequent loss of unemployment and health insurance benefits.

Census reports indicating the number of Archuleta County residents living in poverty will not be available until late next month. National unemployment numbers for September are scheduled to be released Oct. 8.

Although the local unemployment numbers indicate a slowing of job losses in the county and a substantially better situation than the 10.9 percent number in March of this year, there is room for dramatic improvement.

“I’d love to see these numbers get down to the five-percent range,” Vassallo said, stating hope that several economic development opportunities before the CDC will come to fruition within the next one to two months.

While the unemployment situation in the county has been much worse — a 30.9 percent unemployment rate in May 1978 — history is no consolation for the thousands of unemployed residing in the area. And with a stormy national economic climate showing no signs of clearing up, it could be a while before local employment numbers show substantial improvement.

jim@pagosasun.com