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Colorado’s unemployment rate hit 11.3% in April, its highest-ever level

The rate is the highest it has been since the state began tracking unemployment levels in 1976

Customers pick up meals from the Vine Bistro restaurant in downtown Montrose on Tuesday, March 17, 2020. All restaurants and bars in Colorado are closed until at least May 26. (William Woody, Special to The Colorado Sun)
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Colorado’s unemployment rate hit 11.3% in April, the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment said Friday, providing the clearest picture yet of how much the coronavirus crisis has devastated the state’s economy.

The rate is the highest recorded since the state began tracking unemployment levels in 1976. The prior record was 8.9% in the fall of 2010, during the fallout of the Great Recession.

The April rate was up from 5.2% in March and far above the 2.5% reported in February, before the pandemic began to take its economic toll. March’s rate was initially calculated at 4.5%, but has since been corrected.

Colorado’s unemployment rate in April was lower than the national rate of 14.7%, which is the highest recorded since 1948. Colorado was in a three-way tie with Montana and New Mexico for the 15th lowest unemployment rate in the nation for April, according to labor department data.

“We went from record-low to record-high unemployment in a matter of months, which is quite frankly unbelievable,” Cher Haavind, the deputy executive director of the state labor department, said Friday during a call with reporters.

More than 476,000 people have filed initial unemployment claims in Colorado since the coronavirus crisis hit the state in early March and jobs were slashed in industries ranging from tourism to retail and food service to hospitality.

That 11.3% translates into 323,500 fewer jobs in April than in March, which also saw numerous job losses blamed on the global pandemic.  The labor department said jobs were lost across all sectors in April.

The leisure and hospitality industry was hardest hit, the number of jobs declining by 148,100. Tourism faced the first government-mandated restrictions as Gov. Jared Polis ordered ski areas to shut down on March 14. Restaurants and bars were closed to in-person dining a few days later. And on March 25, the governor issued a statewide stay-at-home order

Much of the state has shifted to less stringent safer-at-home guidelines in the past two weeks.

The Colorado Department of Labor and Employment has been paying out record benefits — $88.8 million last week alone — far eclipsing Great Recession levels.

The numbers of Coloradans reporting themselves as employed in April has fallen nearly 10% from February to 2.7 million.

The top counties to see a decline in the number of people on payroll were along the Front Range. Ryan Gedney, senior economist with the state labor department, shared the numbers during a call Friday:

  • Denver: Lost 171,300 jobs leaving its payroll at lowest level since Jan. 2015
  • Colorado Springs: Lost 32,700 jobs, leaving payroll at lowest since June 2015
  • Fort Collins: Down 19,300; payroll at lowest since January 2013
  • Boulder: Lost 17,500; payroll at lowest since September 2015
  • Greeley: Lost 11,000 jobs; payroll lowest since March 2017
  • Pueblo: Lost 8,400 jobs; payroll lowest since September 2005
  • Grand Junction: Lost 8,100 jobs; payroll lowest since October 2005

With fewer people on payroll, that has taken a toll on the state’s unemployment system not only from the large numbers qualifying for jobless benefits but the amount employers pay into the Unemployment Insurance Trust Fund.

The trust fund, which had about $1.1 billion in February, is expected to run out of money by July, according to the state department of labor.

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