More people rejoined the workforce in August, pushing Colorado’s unemployment rate down to 6.7%, compared with a high of 12.2% in April.
The month got a boost in the government sector, which added 10,400 jobs, credited partly to the back-to-school season and hiring by 2020 Census organizers, the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment reported.
“The return of the school year helped drive government jobs in August, while hiring for the 2020 Census provided a temporary boost of about 3,500 to 4,000 jobs,” Ryan Gedney, a senior economist at the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment, said during a call on Friday.
COVID-19 IN COLORADO
The latest from the coronavirus outbreak in Colorado:
- LIVE BLOG: The latest on closures, restrictions and other major updates.
- MAP: Cases and deaths in Colorado.
- TESTING: Here’s where to find a community testing site. The state is now encouraging anyone with symptoms to get tested.
- STORY: How many Coloradans need to get vaccinated to reach coronavirus herd immunity? It’s complicated.
August’s rate was also better than in July, when the unemployment rate was 7.4%.
Private businesses added nearly 200,000 jobs in the past four months, a recovery of 59% of the positions lost in March and April. Many of those jobs were in the food and hospitality industry, which were decimated when coronavirus safety measures curtailed business operations. The improvement put Colorado at the 10 fastest in the nation for private sector job recovery.
The downside is there are a growing number of people who are underemployed. The number of Coloradans who are working part time but would prefer full-time hours grew 8% in August, which translates to about 240,000 people.
And those who are still unemployed — 245,078 were receiving some form of jobless benefit as of Sept. 5 — are staying on unemployment longer. The median length of unemployment increased to 17 weeks in August, from 15 weeks in July. That compares to 20 weeks in 2010, during the height of the Great Recession.
“Additionally, the share of Coloradans unemployed long term — that’s more than 26 weeks — tripled in August to over 15%,” Gedney said. “While the long-term unemployed share is still low due to the massive influx of newly unemployed, it is expected to continue to rise. During the Great Recession approximately 40% of the unemployed individuals were unemployed for 27-plus weeks.”
The U.S. unemployment rate fell to 8.4% in August, down from 14.7% in April, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
In Colorado, Gilpin County had the highest August unemployment rate, at 10.7%. Gedney attributed it to the region’s large casino and tourism industry that hasn’t been able to fully reopen. Denver County has joined the five Colorado counties with the highest unemployment rate, ranking fifth. Nearly 8% of Denver’s working population was out of work in August.
“Denver has a high concentration of a lot of the industries that were impacted and continue to see elevated levels of claims activity, particularly in leisure and hospitality, retail and health services,” he said. “That’s why we’re starting to see the shift to Denver being in the top five.”
The $300 federal bonus benefit has begun
Colorado was approved for $553 million for the Lost Wages Assistance program, which is being funded by the Federal Emergency Management Agency under an executive order from President Donald Trump. Payments of $300 a week are available to people who were unemployed for the six weeks between July 26 and Sept. 5. They also needed to make at least $100 a week in unemployment benefits.
About 288,000 jobless Coloradans are eligible for the bonus unemployment benefit.
After several technical issues this week, the state submitted the first payment request on Thursday evening. Approximately 28,000 users should see the money show up in bank accounts within three business days, said Cher Haavind, the deputy director of the Department of Labor. Another 94,000 will be requested from the bank on Friday. The department will submit payment requests to its bank every day but Sunday.
Eligible users will see two payments of up to $900 each to cover three weeks at a time. The first payment will be sent to people who were eligible for the benefit between July 26 and Aug. 15. And then later next week, the second lump sum will be sent out for the remaining three weeks.
“We want to ensure that we have the greatest equity and distribution of these benefits and that the greatest number of people can benefit from the program,” Haavind said.
Get the latest unemployment and jobs updates in The Colorado Sun’s free new What’s Working newsletter: coloradosun.com/getww