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Local unemployment numbers raise questions

April unemployment for Archuleta County continued a trend in improved jobless numbers that has been exhibited over the past year, dropping to 9.7 percent last month from 10.3 percent in March. In fact, April’s unemployment numbers were the best in three years for that month, down from 10.1 percent last year and 10.9 percent in 2010.

However, as reported by the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment (CDLE) last week, April’s jobless numbers are far less positive than initially indicated.

In that report, the Civilian Labor Force (CLF) for the county decreased by 1.6 percent. When calculating in the number of workers participating in the local labor force for April, the month shows no improvement from the previous month.

If April jobless numbers appear flat given the decrease in the number of available workers, that is largely due to the fact that fewer workers in the county were working. The 5,494 county residents working in April was down from 5,545 the previous month.

The CLF in Archuleta County has shown a steady drop since a high in 2007, indicating that the area is bleeding workers, with April’s CLF down 16.5 percent from the same month in 2007 and down 29.3 percent from the county’s historic high July 2007 CLF number of 7,104 workers.

History indicates that May should not only show improved unemployment numbers for the county, but also show an increase in the CLF — a trend consistent with the past 22 years.

Statewide, the CDLE reported a slight dip in employment for April, with the jobless rate increasing by one-tenth of one percentage point over the month to 7.9 percent.

Like the county, however, the unemployment rate showed improvement over the past two years, down one-half of a percentage point from 8.4 percent in April 2011 and down a full percentage point from April 2010.

Nationally, the jobless outlook has shown continued improvement with April’s rate down to 8.1 percent, a decrease of one-tenth of a percentage point from March and down from 9 percent over the year, and down a full percentage point since last August.

In fact, the U.S. Labor Department reported last week that the unemployment rate fell in two-thirds of U.S. states last month, suggesting that modest economic growth is boosting hiring in most areas of the country.

In that same report, the Labor Department claimed that the unemployment rate dropped in 37 states last month, the most since December. By the same token, the jobless rate rose in five states, while showing no change in eight states.

Last week’s unemployment news indicated reason for optimism in many states, especially in the 22 states showing a rate below 7 percent in April.

In April 2011, only 13 states claimed an unemployment rate below 7 percent.

While employers have added a million jobs over the past five months, the pace of hiring slowed in March and April. Nonetheless, many analysts have revised their economic forecast upwards for the U.S. over the next year.

On Tuesday, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) projected that the country will decrease its unemployment rate to 7.4 percent by the end of 2012 as the U.S. economy outpaces previous projections for the year.

In that same report, the OECD forecasted an unemployment rate of 7.4 percent by the end of 2013, the lowest rate since late 2008.

Additionally, OECD forecasts project a 2.4 percent growth in real U.S. GDP for this year and 2.6 percent in 2013, substantially better than the 1.7 percent recorded for last year. Those forecasts, the OECD said, are based on improving labor markets and better credit conditions that should increase domestic demand going forward.

In contrast with those optimistic projections, the OECD stated that a weak housing market will continue to provide a drag on the U.S. economy as the foreclosure crisis struggles to rebound from the bottom reached late last year.

Likewise, the OECD warned that a potential fallout to the country’s banking system (as well as consumer and business confidence) from the eurozone debt crisis could hinder further growth during the next year.

Nevertheless, Tuesday’s OECD projections are more optimistic than those released in November, when they forecast just 2 percent growth for 2012 and 2.5 percent in 2013, with the jobless rate ending 2013 at 8.4 percent.

Given news from Friday and Tuesday, local officials may want to take another look at economic forecasts for the area through the end of the year. While history suggests that May will show both improved unemployment numbers and sales tax revenues from April, sustained growth on the national level, along with improvements in unemployment, could potentially find their way to Pagosa Country — setting the stage for the best summer in years.

jim@pagosasun.com

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