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The Thirsty Lion Gastropub near Union Station in Denver advertised on its patio in August 2021 that it needs restaurant workers. (Tamara Chuang, The Colorado Sun)

The pandemic has created an out-of-balance workforce, and there could be more big changes next month.

On one hand, somewhere around 100,000 Coloradans will stop receiving weekly unemployment checks after Sept. 4, when federal pandemic benefits end. On the other, thousands of employers are trying to fill 126,773 jobs, the state’s official job board showed Friday.

Both numbers don’t quite measure who is looking for work or stopped doing so. Nor does the data tell us what the real need for workers is in Colorado. Not all jobs are advertised on the job board.

The numbers exclude people like Karrie Stewart, co-owner of Classic Touch Interiors and Restorations in Englewood. Her mom-and-pop restoration service grew significantly last year as owners of classic cars cashed in their stimulus checks and sought restoration help. 

Classic Touch Interiors and Restoration in Englewood is turning away business because it can’t hire enough help. From mechanics to automotive upholstery techs, the jobs pay $20 to $35 an hour, depending on experience. Training is provided. (Provided by Karrie Stewart)

Stewart says she’s now turning away business because she can’t find enough workers using her old method of advertising on Craigslist or Facebook. But she just hired a Denver social media firm to post the jobs — and she’ll try posting on the state’s job board, which is free. (More on Stewart’s job openings below.)

It also excludes Brandi from Denver, who said she is unemployed but hasn’t received unemployment benefits since December because of a locked account. “I have yet to find a job, employers won’t respond, call you back, send a text, send a smoke signal,” she wrote in response to the What’s Working question last week. “All I hear are the crickets of heaven.”

There is a report that attempts to count people like Brandi. The Household Survey, aka the Current Population Survey from the U.S. Census and Bureau of Labor Statistics, takes into account people who are looking for work but are not on unemployment, not available to work or are just discouraged and gave up. This is the “not in the labor force” number.

This number has increased in recent months, hitting 1.5 million in July. It’s been moving up and down all year, down a couple thousand people since March, but up about 7,300 people since April. In December 2019, before the pandemic, there were 1.4 million Coloradans in this category.

Most dropped out of the civilian workforce when they retired or returned to school, Ryan Gedney, the Department of Labor’s senior economist, said during a news conference last week. But 100,400 who said they wanted a job stopped looking in the past year. 

“That could be that we’re seeing retirements,” Gedney said. “It could be that individuals have to opt out of the labor force temporarily to care for someone or to watch a child. There could be a ton of different reasons that we may not fully understand the picture until later this year, early next year.”

Other July Household Survey highlights: 

→  About 80% of the 362,200 jobs lost at the start of the pandemic have returned. Private businesses added 293,300 payroll jobs between May 2020 to July. That recovery rate is ahead of the national rate of 77% and lands Colorado at the 16th fastest in the nation

→  Colorado’s unemployment rate dropped to 6.1% in July, from 6.2% in June.

→  There were 2,999,500 Coloradans employed in July, translating to 57% of the population employed. That’s below the 66.8% before the pandemic.

→ 60% of people who are not counted in the labor force were 55 years or older. 

>> RELATED: “We hire old people.” A job posting for a tech company in Chicago went viral because it said, “Experience matters. We hire old people.” The author also responded to questions on Hacker News.>> APPLY

What happened in states where federal aid ended early?

There are small hints about the impact of what big changes next month could have on Colorado’s workforce. Those come for more than two dozen states that opted out of federal benefits earlier this summer.

Analysts from JPMorgan Chase & Co. tackled the question of whether workers went back to work in the 26 states or not. 

They found that before the pandemic, about 5% of people on unemployment found a new job in any given week. That dropped to 2% in April 2020 as stay-at-home orders went into effect. But by last spring, the rate hovered around 3% and 4%. Analysts concluded the impact of the extra unemployment pay was “small” but future research is needed.

Another study by economists at various colleges nationwide, including Harvard University and Columbia University, found that by the first week of August, employment increased 4.4% in states that ended federal benefits early. 

But while there was a single-digit rate of increase in unemployed workers returning to work, overall spending dropped. By eliminating $4 billion in unemployment benefits as of Aug. 6, overall consumer spending fell $2 billion while earnings rose by $270 million. 

“These states therefore saw a much larger drop in federal transfers than gains from job creation,” the report concludes.

“Long story short, as expected, we see slight increases in the employment ratio in states that opted out versus states that didn’t. We also see a decline in claims, which is obvious,” Gedney said about the study. “What the study also found was that net spending dropped in the states that terminated federal benefits early (compared to) states that didn’t. I think that may have a larger impact on the economy than states that didn’t.”

ResumeBuilder surveyed 1,250 unemployed Americans in May about why they weren’t pursuing a job. The top reason? Fear of contracting COVID-19, followed by lack of jobs in the area and lack of child care. Making more money staying on unemployment than working was the fourth most popular reason. >> SURVEY

Pandemic unemployment: 1 week left!

Let’s go over this one more time: Sept. 4 is the last day folks are eligible for federal unemployment. For those able to take full advantage of the benefits, they received more than a year and a half’s worth of aid. These are the programs expiring and what the maximum weeks were:

  • 79 weeks — Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) for gig workers 
  • 53 weeks — Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation (PEUC) extended regular unemployment benefits, which normally last 26 weeks. In total, that’s 79 weeks.
  • 79 weeks — Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation (FPUC) paid a weekly bonus to those eligible for pandemic relief. Last year, FPUC paid $600 a week between Mar. 29 and July 31. This year, it paid $300 a week between Dec. 27, 2020 and Sept. 4.
  • 40 weeks — Mixed Earner Unemployment Compensation (MEUC) paid an extra $100 to certain folks eligible for both regular unemployment and PUA. MEUC payments only started this month in Colorado and are retroactive to Dec. 27.

In total, all of the pandemic programs (this excludes the 26 weeks of normal state unemployment) paid out $7.4 billion since March 29, according to the Department of Labor. 

Add in normal unemployment, which cost Colorado employers $3.2 billion, plus the Lost Wages Assistance program the state set up last fall, the state’s grand total for unemployment was $11.1 billion.

More on unemployment:

  • No orders — public or executive — are in place to allow unemployment payments to continue for people not working due to COVID-19 health concerns, even if they’re taking care of a vulnerable family member or child, according to CDLE. 
  • President Joe Biden’s suggestion that states use other federal aid for pandemic unemployment after Sept. 4 must be approved by Gov. Jared Polis or the state legislature. Contact: Gov. Polis, State Legislators 
  • If you never applied for PUA but are eligible, you can still apply after Sept. 4. The U.S. Department of Labor requires CDLE to accept new PUA applications for 30 days after the program expires. But, department officials said, “those applications will be manually reviewed for eligibility prior to any benefits being paid out.”
  • If you made a request for older benefits and your PUA or PEUC claim is still under review, the benefits will be paid after Sept. 4 only if deemed eligible. 
  • As of Aug. 14, there were 32,449 people on regular unemployment and many will continue to be on it after Sept. 4. But weekly checks will drop by $300 with the end of FPUC. That may cause some budget issues since regular unemployment pays just 55% of one’s former weekly paycheck. By comparison, In 2019, an average of 18,600 people were on continued weekly unemployment.

More end-of-benefits Q&A from CDLE >> FAQ

Jobs: Wages are rising

As mentioned last week, new data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that average earnings for Colorado workers rose $1.33 an hour to $31.84, which is $1.30 higher than the national average for July.

Workers are causing employers to rethink wages and possibly other benefits about a job.

That’s all good for Jude, who’s 69 and wrote in to say, “The cost of living is just as high here as California! I don’t blame people waiting or asking for more pay! Why would I work for a CNA care company for maybe $15 an hour?” 

( reports the median pay is $32,851, or $15.79 an hour for certified nursing assistants in Colorado. That means half of CNAs make less than that.)

Meanwhile, Stewart, who owns Classic Touch Interiors and Restorations with husband Jesse, understands rising wages. Job openings at the shop pay between $20 to $35 an hour.

Her issue is that her old method of finding help wasn’t working anymore.

“We were getting zero applicants when I was just doing Craiglist and Facebook,” Stewart said. “That’s what made me go, ‘OK, I need to hire somebody to spread this around.’”

Jesse Stewart does lead work at Classic Touch Interiors and Restorations in Englewood. “It is a dying art in car restoration where actual lead is melted and used to complete the body work utilizing original materials instead of factory reproductions,” said Karrie Stewart, who has run the business with her husband, Jesse, for 16 years. The shop is now turning away business because they can’t find enough workers. (Provided by Classic Touch Interiors and Restorations)

She hired Denver-based Nuclear Networking, which posted the openings on eight different social media sites. She considers the $30 an hour average wage to be mid-range pay for skilled mechanics, automotive upholstery techs and auto body restoration specialists.

She’s hopeful. 

“So far, the three applicants that have come in are people who own their own business, but aren’t making it as a business owner. They have a good work ethic, but they want to keep being out there (for their own business),” she said. >> Contact Classic Touch Interiors  

→ 40% of Colorado restaurants increased wages: Colorado Restaurant Association says nine out of 10 restaurants have changed their business practices or raised wages to attract and keep talent. More than 31% increased wages 21% to 30%, while 10% increased wages 31% to 40%. Additionally, 23% added more benefits including paid-time off, medical insurance and 401(k)s.

Other business bits

Incoming: Orbit Fab, the “gas station in space” company, is moving its San Francisco headquarters to Colorado. A location hasn’t been disclosed yet but eventually, the company will add 196 jobs in aerospace and engineering that pay an average annual wage of $95,867 (no local jobs are currently posted). If the company meets the hiring goals, they are eligible for the state’s Job Growth Incentive Tax Credit of $4,618,688. Orbit Fab builds a refueling tool to lengthen the life of satellites, which typically become obsolete when they run out of fuel. >> JOBS

→ The $500 apprenticeship bonus: Local workforce centers already connect potential employees to employers (here’s where they are in Colorado). But they also promote apprenticeships. Now, CDLE is offering $500 scholarships to workers looking for training in a new or existing career. It’s a free service to employers.  >> MORE INFO

→ Second round for the SBA’s Shuttered Venue Operators Grant. The program provided $9 billion to 11,500 venues. For the second round, the Small Business Administration says it’s invite only. Eligible companies include those who received the first grant and can show a 70% revenue loss in first quarter 2021 revenues compared to the same in 2019. >> DETAILS

ICYMI: Colorado small businesses approved for forgivable Paycheck Protection Program loans said the $15.1 billion would help 1.6 million jobs survive. Read about who got loans, how much they were and which ones have been forgiven. (There’s also a searchable database of all Colorado companies). >> STORY

Big week next week for the unemployed. All the best to those impacted, but reach out and share your story because employers read this column and may be looking for someone like you. Hang in there everyone and we’ll be back next week! ~tamara

What’s Working is a Colorado Sun column for readers navigating today’s economy. Read the archive, send a message and don’t miss the next one. Get this free newsletter in your inbox by signing up at

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Tamara Chuang writes about Colorado business and the local economy for The Colorado Sun, which she cofounded in 2018 with a mission to make sure quality local journalism is a sustainable business. Her focus on the economy during the pandemic...