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Economy

What’s Working: Colorado sees more jobs return as some federal coronavirus aid programs are set to end

Small businesses get more time to apply for forgivable Paycheck Protection Program loans, while those with reduced incomes face the March 31 end of an eviction moratorium.

Businesses at the Denver Pavilions advertise to the few passersby on the 16th Street Mall on August 24, 2020. (Eric Lubbers, The Colorado Sun)
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As spring’s milder weather and vaccine proliferation boosts businesses’ outlook on the economic recovery, Colorado’s job market has already seen improvement in the winter months, according to the latest state employment data.

The state dropped 1,900 people from unemployment in February, though it wasn’t enough to make a dent in the state’s unemployment rate. February’s rate stayed at 6.6%, the same as January, said Ryan Gedney, senior economist for the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment. 

The state is still missing a lot of jobs lost during the pandemic. But about 219,100 of the 375,800 nonfarm payroll jobs lost between February and April of last year have returned. That puts the state’s job recovery rate at 58.3%, or slightly higher than the U.S. rate of 57.6%.

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And the rate of people working or looking for a job is nearly back to where it was before the pandemic, at 68.6%, he said, during a news conference on Friday.

“Colorado’s recovery in labor force participation ranks as the sixth fastest in the nation,” Gedney said, adding that it’s the third highest rate in the nation. “I do expect job growth to accelerate throughout the rest of the year and unemployment rates continue to decline or gradually decline.” 

Counties with the highest unemployment rates were mostly outside the Denver metro region, with Huerfano County posted the highest rate of 10.5% and Pueblo County the second highest, at 9.3%.

Meanwhile, the number of continued claims fell to 245,481 for the week ending March 13, down 5% from the prior week. Of those, CDLE estimates that 210,572 individuals made a jobless claim. More than 75% of those claims were paid using federal pandemic-relief funds.

91,806 job openings

On Friday, the number of open jobs on the state’s official job board Connecting Colorado continued to grow to 91,806. That’s up from about 82,000 last week. As you may recall, I questioned the number of positions since there were obvious duplicates. 

I’ll share what I’ve found in a story next week (bookmark this link to see the latest stories). And I’m still looking for folks who are willing to share their job search on the record. Email me with your experience at tamara@coloradosun.com

But here’s a sneak peek: One of Denver’s homegrown tech companies that has been hiring like crazy for several years had no idea that Connecting Colorado existed. Ibotta, which built the mobile app offering cash-back to shoppers, had more than 75 job openings this week, said Marisa Daspit, senior vice president of people. 

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For technical roles, the company recruits nationally and posts openings on technical sites. But for other jobs, Ibotta posts them on its own site and relies on local sources to spread the word to Coloradans. 

“We continue to lean heavily on LinkedIn, the Built-In Colorado site and our local connections (and) university partnerships,” Daspit said. “These are the types of positions that we would probably like to be able to post on a site like (Connecting Colorado).”

Are you a Colorado employer? Posting jobs on Connecting Colorado is free. >> Details

→ CDLE is hosting the Virtual Women’s Resource Symposium to help job seekers improve their resumes, job profiles and interview skills. It’ll also highlight programs that help mothers and guardians with child care. The event is from 9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. on March 29; military veterans only for the first hour. >> RSVP

Unemployment still exists

One of the many unknowns with the state unemployment office is how many accounts are still unpaid and on hold, especially those with fraud holds that weren’t fixed after an IDme verification. I ask CDLE for the number weekly. I don’t always get a specific response.

“The thing to remember here, Tamara, is that this number is always in flux, it’s always changing,” Phil Spesshardt, acting director of the state’s Unemployment Insurance Division, said during Friday’s press conference. “I wouldn’t say (the pile is) smaller. It continues to be worked as it goes along.”

Trying to get through the pile seems to result in new discoveries of unemployment fraud and fraudsters have not let up, he said.

But looking at the CDLE Daily Dashboard, you can see progress. On average, 1,837 identities have been verified every day since March 18. Similarly, $2.2 million has been paid each day to accounts that were previously on hold.

I suggest that if your case is still on hold, call the helpline at 303-536-5615 (for PUA and MyUI+ issues) or 303-318-9000 (for regular unemployment issues). Wait times are drastically lower in the past two weeks, ranging from 43 minutes on Monday to 2 seconds on Wednesday and Friday. Pro tip: Call later in the week.

The Colorado Department of Labor and Employment updates the numbers of this dashboard five days a week. On March 25, 2021 the agency said that the wait time to get through to a help center agent was two seconds. (Screenshot)

Unpaid workshare benefits? I heard from a reader who didn’t want to be named. But her case made me curious. Her company participates in a state workshare program that was designed to save jobs during the pandemic. She was working half-time, with unemployment covering the rest of her wages. But then her hours were cut to 10 a week — a 75% reduction and she stopped getting her unemployment pay.

That’s not how it’s supposed to work. The workshare program allows employers to retain workers at reduced hours instead of laying them off. While the old plan limited the reduction of hours to no more than 40%, CDLE’s move to the MyUI+ system let employers cut hours up to 50%, said Jessica Hudgins Smith, press secretary of the Division of Unemployment Insurance.

“In other words, if an employer plan reduces the hours to 20 per week, a deviation of an employee having hours cut to 19 or increased to 21 for that week will still allow payment,” she said. “If the deviation is greater, payment will not occur.”

If you’ve been unpaid for weeks, you will need to file a regular claim for unemployment, Smith said. You can call the state’s helpline at 303-536-5615 too.

MEUC still MIA: Remember mixed earners? These folks made more money as self-employed gig workers than their traditional jobs before the pandemic. But as per the federal rules, their unemployment benefits were based on the lesser income from their regular job.

That changed in the federal Continued Assistance Act, passed in late December. For these “mixed earners” who made at least $5,000 in self-employment in the prior year, they were eligible for an extra $100 per week while on the lower-paying, regular state unemployment.

But that $100 is still not available in Colorado. CDLE’s focus has been on larger groups who haven’t been paid, so it is still programming MEUC (mixed earners unemployment compensation) into the system, said deputy director Cher Haavind. No estimated launch date has been set, as of this week.

But once deployed, MEUC will require proof of at least $5,000 in net income from self-employment activity. Then the $100 weekly payments will begin and be added to past weeks back through Dec. 27. Under the American Rescue Plan, MEUC was extended to Sept. 6.

→ Mixed earners may amount to a small number of Coloradans, but nationwide, there’s an organized effort to bring attention and information about MEUC at MixedEarners.org >> Details

Pandemic programs get extended

As the end of another month approaches, March 31 also brings the end to several pandemic-related programs — unless they were extended. 

For those whose incomes are still reduced because of pandemic pressures, here is what’s coming and going on March 31:

Paycheck Protection Program: The deadline for small businesses to apply for these forgivable loans will likely be extended two months to May 31. On Thursday, the Senate passed the PPP Extension Act of 2021, which now awaits President Joe Biden’s signature. More than 54,000 Colorado businesses were approved for a PPP loan so far this year and there is about $88 billion (out of $284 billion) still up for grabs, as of March 21.

National eviction moratorium: A renter could still be evicted during the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s eviction moratorium, which ends March 31. But for those who swore they could not pay rent because of reduced incomes, the order protected their tenancy. CDC has asked for the moratorium to be extended and the Biden administration is considering an extension to July, reports The Washington Post.

Mortgage forbearance: Homeowners who’ve had trouble paying their federal-backed mortgages got an extra three months of mortgage forbearance, giving those who were already in a COVID-19 forbearance plan on Feb. 28 up to 18 months. The Federal Housing Finance Agency also extended the eviction moratorium on single-family foreclosures to June 30. >> Details

More small business help:

$500,000 loans: The SBA’s Economic Injury Disaster Loan Program received an upgrade this week allowing applicants to qualify for a maximum loan of $500,000 starting April 6. The low-interest loans (3.75% for businesses and 2.75% for nonprofits) were previously capped at $150,000. >> Details

Grants for closed venues: Operators of closed venues can start applying for federal grants on April 8 as part of the Shuttered Venue Operators Grant program. Some $16.25 billion was allocated for the program from the federal relief plans. There will be a 90-minute SBA webinar on how to apply March 30 at 12:30 p.m. MT (register here). 


It was a rough week for Colorado whether you work or don’t work. Hang in there dear readers. If you need some help, check out the What’s Working list of resources. Have a good week! ~tamara

This story has been updated with new information about the workshare program.


What’s Working is a Colorado Sun column for readers navigating pandemic employment. Read the archive and don’t miss the next one. Get this free newsletter delivered to your inbox by signing up at coloradosun.com/getww.

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