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Looks like omicron did have an impact on Colorado’s employers in December. New monthly data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics this week ranked the state as the nation’s highest for the rate of layoffs, tied with Alaska for the top spot. 

An estimated 1.6% of Colorado’s workforce was laid off in December, or double the U.S. average of 0.8%. That’s up from September when Colorado had the same rate as the U.S., or 0.9%, according to the BLS Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey, which is just a small sample of the working population but is used as a tool to gauge economic health.

The trend is supported by state unemployment numbers in the same period. According to the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment, the number of people filing first-time jobless claims increased in early December. The numbers dropped by the end of the month but climbed again in early January, presumably due to the rise of COVID’s omicron variant.

And while Colorado had the highest layoff rates in December, keep in mind that it was at 1.6%, compared with 2.1% in December 2020. 

Ryan Gedney, a senior economist with the state labor department, always warns that we should not read too much into a single month of job data. In August, Colorado also had the highest rate of layoffs in the nation in the JOLTS report. Since we’re still in a pandemic, the monthly ups and downs may not mean much over time. 

He offered context about the state’s December unemployment rate, which at 4.8% was higher than the nation’s 3.9%.

“The recovery of the state’s unemployment rate during the pandemic recession has been substantially faster than the past two recessions,” Gedney said during a January news conference. “During this recession, it took Colorado only 20 months for the unemployment rate to move from the peak rate, which was 12.1% in April 2020, to 4.8%. In comparison, 30 months passed between the peak rate and 4.8% during the early 2000s recession, while 45 months elapsed when looking at the Great Recession and the drop from peak rate (of 9.4%)  to 4.8%.”

Colorado may just be ahead of U.S. trends again. Back in October, Colorado led the nation with the highest rate of people who quit their jobs, or 4.0% compared with 2.8% for the nation. That slowed down, at least here, with Colorado ranking 34th, with a 3% quit rate compared with 2.9% for the nation.

For what it’s worth, initial unemployment claims are coming down again. In the week ended Feb. 12, new jobless claims dropped 10.6% from a week earlier to 1,976, or about the same weekly average as in 2019. The number of continued claims is now below 19,000 per week, which is also similar to 2019 averages.

Companies are still hiring

While some of the jobs posted on the state’s job board may be duplicated or questionable, as of Friday there are still 123,944 openings on ConnectingColorado.com.

And JOLTS data show that Colorado is still above average in the rates of folks getting hired and job openings, at least compared with other states. Colorado is in a three-way tie for the 10th highest rate of job openings compared to the sum of employment.

That may be why Joe Bradshaw, operational manager at TenderCare assisted living facilities in Denver, continues to struggle to find help. As we learned in October, Bradshaw had provided $100 bonuses to workers who showed up on time for the first two weeks. He hadn’t paid one out in two years.

“I hired five girls in the last six days. Four of them went through the onboarding process, they came in to HR, did all the policies and procedures and got their employment numbers and all that stuff, and then none of them showed up to their shift,” Bradshaw said when I checked in on his business this week. “Only one of them showed up to be trained. … Why would someone show up and go through all those procedures and then ghost you?”

Bradshaw said he’s raised wages 20% to 25% since the pandemic and pays entry-level care workers $16 to $20 an hour. He’s getting tired of posting openings on Indeed or Zip Recruiter because they are not producing the people he needs (he said does get about two to three applicants a day).

The reasons are likely due to the number of opportunities still available. As you may recall in a prior What’s Working column, economist Luke Pardue with payroll services provider Gusto pointed out that the job market is still very competitive so people continue to quit their jobs and move to gigs offering more money or at least a better work environment. 

Gusto is seeing small business owners reducing worker hours in order to retain as many as possible while balancing the negative financial impact of ongoing COVID disruptions.

“It’s really difficult to predict what is going to happen two weeks from now, nonetheless a year from now,” Pardue said. “And every new wave that we see results in more pain for both small businesses and their workers. But we’re seeing small business owners are becoming more adaptable and nimble and how they adjust to each new curve that’s thrown out their way and this has come more recently in the form of just adjusting workers hours rather than terminating them.” 

→ Too few people to work? I’ve wondered about this before and now labor market analysis firm EMSI looks at why our workforce is shrinking: Baby Boomers have retired, fewer babies are being born and the nation’s labor force participation rate hasn’t recovered. >> REPORT

The future of remote work

More companies that went to remote work after spending their pre-pandemic lives in office buildings are now adopting what may be the best of both worlds: The hybrid office.

I wrote about the trend this week. According to data from commercial real estate broker CBRE, 87% of office clients nationwide intend to allow employees to work remotely a few days per week. It ends up being nearly two days per week compared to 0.6 days before the pandemic.

How about this as your office? The “Sky Terrace” at Block 162, the new office tower on 15th and California in downtown Denver, is only 20% leased as of February 2022. This floor is open to tenants only for meetings, work, socializing and exercise. Plus there’s a great view, being 11 stories high. (Provided by Block 162)

This is already a reality for some downtown Denver companies that have returned to the office but aren’t requiring employees to stop by daily. And it’s impacting business for commercial building owners, like the new 30-story Block 162, near 15th and California streets. The developer works with clients to reimagine the new office space, which often includes “hoteling” desks for drop-in employees and uniform-sized offices so not every executive gets a large corner office.

“Many (tenants) have decided to take less space than they had previously occupied,” said David Haltom, a senior vice president of Patrinely Group, the building’s owner and developer. 

>> READ: Welcome back, Denver office friends — or whoever shows up at work on any given day

Other working bits

→ Grocery strike avoided — The same union that helped King Soopers workers get a pay raise last month (after a very public nine-day strike) reached a tentative agreement for Safeway and Albertsons employees in Colorado. United Food and Commercial Workers Local 7 called the three-year contract the “richest” in the country but did not share details. The 5,400 union members at dozens of  grocery stores in Colorado and Rock Springs, Wyoming, will vote on the contract next week. >> UPDATES

→ Other states get clued in to entrepreneurship — We already reported that Colorado had a record number of new business filings during the pandemic. Other states, however, saw even greater growth, according to one analysis by a company that connects customers to loans. >> REPORT

→ Tech still having a massive labor crisis — It was bad before the pandemic as tech companies looked for more skilled workers. A New York Times story shares an update of what it’s like today: “Estimates of the unemployment rates for tech workers are about 1.7%, compared with roughly 4% in the general economy; for those with expertise in cybersecurity, it’s more like 0.2%.” >> NY TIMES

→ Equitable pay debate — Curious to hear what strangers think about Colorado’s pay transparency law? (The one that requires employers to post salaries and pay ranges on job openings). Check out this discussion on Hacker News. >> THREAD


I’m looking for folks who opened up a recent bill or looked up at the cash register and realized you’re paying way more for (insert good or service here) than before. What’s your story? Share it as I dive deeper into how inflation is impacting our lives. Thanks for reading. ~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 coloradosun.com/getww

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Tamara Chuang

The Colorado Sun — tamara@coloradosun.com Tech+Business+Economy Email: tamara@coloradosun.com...