Unemployment in Garfield County has consistently declined in 2021, ending in November at about 4%, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
“It’s a healthy unemployment rate,” said Carolyn Tucker, spokesperson for the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment. “From our perspective, it’s healthier than pre-pandemic levels, which were around 2-3%.
While data is not yet available for December, labor statistics show the 2021 average unemployment rate for Garfield County was around 5%, up from around 7% in 2020.
CDLE’s regional business services manager for Western Eagle, Pitkin and Garfield counties Tucker said a slightly higher unemployment rate may be better for employers as more workers seek employment.
Unemployment rates, she explained, are determined by dividing the total labor force by the total number of unemployed claiming benefits. Figures are an indicator but may be skewed as they do not include people whose unemployment benefits have expired or workers who have voluntarily left the labor market for reasons such as childcare.
“If there’s anything I’ve seen about the pandemic, it’s that it has accentuated past trends such as issues of affordable housing and child care,” Tucker said. “These problems existed before the pandemic, but they’re worse now, and we’ve seen a number of workers – mostly women – quit their careers to care for their children. “
Unemployed people leaving one region to work elsewhere can also reduce the unemployment rate, she said.
As a tourism economy, Garfield County’s workforce typically fluctuates year-to-year and month-to-month, depending on the season. The county’s average labor force of around 33,000 in 2019 has fallen to around 29,000 workers in 2020. But by 2021, the average through November has rebounded to around 32,000.
“I don’t see a huge deficit of people moving away or coming out,” Tucker said. “However, we have an aging workforce and a lot of people have decided to retire.”
During the Great Recession of 2008, older workers stayed in the labor market longer due to uncertainty in the stock markets. But during the pandemic, the stock market has remained relatively healthy and many people of retirement age across the country have definitely put their work boots away, she said.
“We knew this wave of retirements was coming – this tsunami of money,” said Tucker, explaining that the workforce forecasting models predicted the shortage a decade ago. “Baby boomers are aging outside of the workforce, but people are having fewer children and fewer people entering the workforce than leaving. “
While the out-migration of older workers creates opportunities for the rest of the workforce, the lower number of people entering the labor market is a significant contributor to the labor shortages faced by many workers. many entry-level positions in Garfield County and across the country, Tucker said.
Whatever challenges lie ahead, Tucker said she was optimistic about the future of employment in Garfield County.
“The trend over the past eight months has been quite encouraging,” she said. “I see a lot of positive things happening for 2022. It will be difficult, but from my perspective the Garfield County business community has been great in adjusting to these changes.”
Journalist Ike Fredregill can be reached at 970-384-9154 or by email at [email protected].