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Unemployment rate eases in January

Paired with good economic news regarding an increase in sales tax collections (see related story on front page), the Pagosa area also saw an improvement in the local unemployment rate, with the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment (CDLE) reporting Tuesday that non-seasonally adjusted unemployment for January was at 10.3 percent.

While that number is still far too high, it is a substantial improvement over the same month last year which, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports as 12.8 percent.

Furthermore, that 2 1/2-percent drop in the unemployment rate cannot be accounted for by diminishing population numbers: Tuesday’s report indicated that the area’s Civilian Labor Force (CLF — the number of working-age adults in the job market) grew by 2.1 percent over January 2011, from 5,875 last year to 5,998 this year.

In fact, 2011 had been on track to perform as the worst year for unemployment in the area in almost a quarter decade, with the latter part of 2010 setting the stage for those numbers.

Fortunately, the last two quarters of 2011 showed a rebound in the area’s jobs numbers, with those months showing improved unemployment numbers from the year before. That trend continued through the end of the year, allowing 2011 to perform slightly better than 2010 in the area’s unemployment rate, staving off another record-setting year for local jobless numbers.

January’s CDLE report is an indication that the area’s unemployment rate continues to trend in a positive direction, suggesting a bright start to this year.

The local unemployment situation is analogous to an improving rate at both the state and national level.

Tuesday’s CDLE report showed that the unemployment rate in Colorado decreased one-tenth of a percentage point to 7.8 percent, with private sector payroll jobs increasing by 22,500, but government jobs decreasing by 3,000.

While the national unemployment rate stalled at 8.3 percent in February, the economy found muscle enough to pump out an average of 245,000 net new jobs per month between December and February. Furthermore, that rate has consistently fallen from being over 9 percent as early as last summer.

However, national numbers (like local figures) remain far too high, causing most economists to remain cautiously optimistic or modest in forecasts for the remainder of the year.

Fed chairman Ben Bernanke told Congress last month that the economy is still sluggish due to parsimonious spending by American consumers. During that report, Bernanke added that the Fed is forecasting overall economic growth at a tepid 2.25 percent this year.

Still, the Commerce Department’s better-than-expected data reported last week regarding the labor market in February echoed some other recent good data: layoffs are down, consumer borrowing has grown and Americans are buying new cars at the fastest rate since early 2008.

However, one cause for concern is the fact that, on top of the official jobless numbers, there are millions who dropped out of the jobs market altogether during the so-called Great Recession — workers who appear to be beginning to return to the job market. Their presence, some analysts fear, will keep the unemployment rate stubbornly high and wage growth flat, potentially confounding the need for increased consumer spending.

Hopefully, Archuleta County is pointing the way for the rest of the nation. With reports on Tuesday showing a significant increase in sales tax revenues, along with a rosier employment situation, it appears that more local residents are working — and pumping some of their paycheck back into the local economy.

jim@pagosasun.com

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