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Susan Ohlhaber of Morrison uses a circular saw for a table during a construction boot camp at the Colorado Homebuilding Academy on Monday, August 20, 2021, in Denver. The Academy teaches construction skills, technical math and power tool usage to attendees, many of which have transitioned into jobs within the housing and construction industry. (Olivia Sun, The Colorado Sun)

What’s Working: A version of this story first appeared in a segment of our weekly What’s Working column on July 23, 2022. Additional details are included in this story. Read the full column. >> Sign up for the newsletter

Thanks to a gain of 4,500 nonfarm payroll jobs in June, Colorado has now recovered 110.1% of jobs lost in the first two months of the COVID-19 pandemic. That helped push down Colorado’s unemployment rate to 3.4% in June, the lowest since February 2020’s very low 2.8%.

The U.S. unemployment rate didn’t change for the fourth straight month, at 3.6% in June.

But if the pandemic hadn’t happened, Colorado would have added another 100,000 more jobs by now, according to data compiled by the state Department of Labor and Employment. Before the pandemic, the state’s job growth trajectory was at 4,900 per month.

However, getting to 2,857,400, as the state did in June, still puts the state at one of its highest levels of jobs ever. Colorado had a fast recovery, said Ryan Gedney, senior economist with the labor department. But that job growth is starting to slow.

“I think we’ve gotten out of that recovery mode. The state has regained what jobs that were lost (after) February 2020,” Gedney said. 

But he added that had the pandemic not happened, there might have been a recession anyway, or at least a slowdown in new job creation. It was already challenging to hire enough workers before the pandemic.

“Remember, at the end of 2019, the nation, the state, we were still at a historically long economic expansion,” he said. “Was 4,900 a realistic measure? Possibly not. Could there have been a recession that happened? You’d go crazy if you tried to play out all these different what ifs.” 

But he did revise that 4,900 pre-pandemic projection, dropping it to a “what if” of 2,500 new jobs per month instead. That puts Colorado closer to reaching the projected job growth had the pandemic not happened. See the red and black lines in the chart below.

If the pandemic hadn’t happened, Colorado’s job growth trajectory would be the blue line, growing at 4,900 new jobs per month, projected economists at the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment. But it did, so that’s the black line. However, the pre-pandemic economy economy had tight labor supply and economists decided to slow down the growth to 2,500 new jobs a month, or the red line. That puts the state’s pandemic economy closer to where we’d be if the pandemic hadn’t happened. (Colorado Department of Labor and Employment)

Only two regions in the state haven’t recovered all the lost jobs. The Fort Collins metro area has recovered 97% of jobs lost, while the Greeley region is still down 4,800 jobs having recovered just 59% of jobs lost. 

The decline in mining and logging is to blame. The industry, which includes oil and gas companies, not only hasn’t recovered, it continues to shed jobs. It lost 2,400 jobs in the first two months of the pandemic, but is still down 3,400 jobs since April 2020.

But as Colorado continued to add more jobs elsewhere and people joined or returned to work, the state is now near its highest labor force participation rate since March 2020. Approximately 69.5% of working-age adults were employed or looking for jobs in June. The preliminary count is 3,248,800 Coloradans in the labor force — the highest number to date.

Industries that saw the most change in June:

  • Leisure and hospitality gained 2,300 jobs
  • Government (largely in education), gained 2,100 jobs
  • Professional & business services, down 1,800 jobs
  • Financial services, down 1,900 jobs

→ Wages up again. Average hourly earnings reached $34.21 in Colorado in June, or up $2.61 from last year, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The national average hourly wage was $32.08.

What’s Working: A version of this story first appeared in a segment of our weekly What’s Working column on July 23, 2022. Additional details are included in this story. Read the full column. >> Sign up for the newsletter