Unemployment continues to sink in Weld County and across the state | MyWindsorNow.com

Unemployment continues to sink in Weld County and across the state

Sharon Dunn
sdunn@greeleytribune.com

Not so long ago, if there was an opening for a custodial or dining hall position at the University of Northern Colorado, there would be 100 applicants.

Today, Human Resources Director Marshall Parks could count his applicant pool for such positions on one hand.

It's just that tough out there.

"We certainly can see the impact of low unemployment rate," Parks said.

On Friday, the news of Weld County's unemployment rate sinking to its lowest point in almost 27 years was no surprise to Parks, and neither was the news wages likely will have to increase as a result.

Weld's unemployment rate, which is derived from a survey of households, sunk to 2.1 percent for August. The last time it was even close was May 2000, when the unemployment rate hit 2.3 percent.

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But that's no different from any other metropolitan statistical area in the state. All six major population centers are experiencing the same thing.

"The rest of the state is at historically low unemployment rates," said Ryan Gedney, a senior economist with the Colorado Department of Labor, in a conference call with reporters Friday. "We have 30 counties that have unemployment rates lower than 2 percent, and Weld County is just following the overall trend."

Local companies are feeling the pain. Northern Colorado Traffic Control has 100 openings for flaggers to work the next several months in the Big Thompson canyon flood reconstruction project. They are boosting wages and going so far as to offer a $300 bonus to workers who make it to the end of that project in May.

"We are having to do a really big marketing blitz right now for the project, and we're having to invest some money to try to get candidates," said Dondi Gesick, a recruitment assistant for Northern Colorado Traffic Control, 1712 1st Ave, Greeley.

A quick check of the Weld County Employment Services listed positions show 200 openings in Weld County. The county agency also has had to resort to offering two job fairs a month to handle the increased demand from employers to find workers.

The larger concern is the entry-level jobs, the ones that pay more than minimum wage yet not quite the wages of more experienced workers.

Parks still sees hundreds of applicants for his higher level positions, as the fervor to move to Colorado continues. But he said the university has had to raise wages in some of its entry-level positions to stay competitive.

"Last year we raised minimum wages of custodial positions by 14 percent, and that helped us tremendously in recruiting and training, and mostly in retaining them," Parks said.

Wage increases are the most likely result of this cycle, which few see going away.

That's already changing across the state.

"We have seen over the last couple of months some sizable gains in wages, over 3 percent, which is keeping pace with inflation," Gedney said.

In the first quarter of the year, as an example, average weekly wages across the state rose 8 percent from the previous year.

"That's is the strongest growth we've seen in the first quarter, almost since the late 1990s," Gedney said.

In Weld, the first-quarter average weekly wage of $983 represented a 9.9 percent growth versus the same time last year. While the second quarter of 2016 dropped 5 percent from the first quarter, the average weekly wage has been steadily climbing since last fall, when it hit $912 a week, according to the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment.

Weld in that first quarter was just $5 a week behind Larimer County, which saw a 10.1 percent growth in its average weekly wages since the first quarter of 2016.

Parks said the other piece that plays into the situation is Colorado's annual minimum wage increases, which are mandated by law. The gaining wages forces an upward push on UNC wages to compete, he said.

"I don't think we have any(regular) employees at minimum wage," Parks said, noting students still earn the state minimum. "The gap between minimum wage and where we pay entry level positions is narrowing."

Wage Growth

The state Department of Labor and Employment reports that average weekly wages in the first quarter of the year have risen dramatically from the same time last year. Statewide, wages in that time increased 7.5 percent.

Closer to home, growth is more pronounced:

County — Average Weekly Wage (Growth)

Broomfield — $1,818 (+4.2 percent)

Denver — $1,400 (+6.7 percent)

Boulder — $1,279 (+8.7 percent)

Jefferson — $1,126 (+9.8 percent)

Adams — $1,023 (+8.7 percent)

Larimer — $988 (+10.1 percent)

Weld — $983 (+9.9 percent)

El Paso — $948 (+8.1 percent)

Mesa — $805 (+7.2 percent)

Pueblo — $792 (+7.7 percent)

Statewide — $1,136 (+7.5 percent)

Growth is from the first quarter of 2016 among the larger counties in the state.

Source: Colorado Department of Labor and Employment.

Hire Job and Resource Fair

The Greeley Tribune is sponsoring the Hire Job and Resource Fair from 2-7 p.m. Tuesday at Island Grove Regional Park Events Center conference rooms. The first hour is reserved for veterans, then the fair, which is free, is open to the public from 3-7 p.m.

August Unemployment among metropolitan statistical areas

» Boulder — 1.9 percent, down from 2.8 percent last year at the same time.

» Colorado Springs — 2.6 percent, down from 3.7 percent from the same time last year.

» Denver — 2.2 percent, down from 3.1 percent.

» Fort Collins/Loveland — 1.8 percent, down a full percentage point from the same time last year.

» Grand Junction — 3.0 percent, down more than 2 percentage points.

» Pueblo — 3.6 percent, down from 4.8 percent.

» Weld County — 2.1 percent, down from 3.4 percent from the same time last year.

Source: Colorado Department of Labor and Employment survey of households.

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