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Colorado’s job growth has been one of the stronger, if conflicting, signs that if we are in a recession, this is not your typical recession. The state recovered all the jobs lost in the early part of the pandemic by March, ranking as the 12th fastest recovery in the nation. 

But after 13 months of declining unemployment rates, the state’s unemployment rate increased a smidge in August and stayed put at 3.4% in September, according to the latest jobs report. That put Colorado right in the middle for unemployment rates nationwide. It was a narrow range, though. Minnesota had the lowest rate of 2% while Illinois was the highest, at 4.5%.

Hiring signs are posted outside a Taco Bell at the 16th St. Mall Oct. 13, 2022, in downtown Denver. (Olivia Sun, The Colorado Sun via Report for America)

Ryan Gedney, senior economist at the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment, said  Friday that he’s not concerned. 

“From a labor market perspective, there’s zero indication of a recession in terms of looking at the payroll jobs or the unemployment rate,” Gedney said. “If we dig even deeper into (unemployment claims), they are historically low.”

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics data actually shows that the number of unemployed Coloradans shrank in September, by about 2,000, from August. What also changed was the number of people in the labor force shrank by 2,800, possibly due to retirement. The changes to both weren’t enough to budge the unemployment rate.

But any sort of recession naysaying is just from the perspective of job losses, he added. 

“That’s not to say there aren’t headwinds,” he said. “Certainly in Europe and the U.S. in terms of inflation concerns, interest rates and Federal Reserve actions, there are certainly headwinds but if we look at a snapshot right now of the labor market, there are no indicators that we’re in a recession at this point.”

So why does a flat unemployment rate and declining labor force still seem, if not upbeat, un-recession-like?

It’s because of history, he said.

In the five years before the pandemic, Colorado’s monthly unemployment rate hovered between 2.5% and 4%. We’re in between that now. And the labor force participation rate in the same five-year period was lower than today, which means fewer working-age adults were working or looking for work.

In September, the number of Coloradans in the labor force declined by 2,800 from August, according to the latest data. This labor force participation rate dropped two-tenths of a percentage point to 69.4% in September. Before the pandemic disruption, the rate was lower, at 68.4% in February 2020, partly because there were fewer people working or looking for work.

“I do expect to see a slowing of the labor force participation rate just because the state’s really reached record levels that it hasn’t seen in a decade,” he said. “There’s just a certain point where we weren’t going to see any increases in the participation rate anymore.”

More September job report bits:

  • Average hourly earnings grew to $34.43, up from $32.46 a year ago. The U.S. average in September coincidentally was also $32.46.
  • All industries in Colorado have recovered the jobs lost at the start of the pandemic, except for the mining industry, which is down even further, by 3,900 jobs. The industry lost 2,400 jobs in March and April 2020.
  • All regions of Colorado have recovered jobs lost in the pandemic except for Greeley, which has recovered only 57% of jobs lost. That’s due to Greeley’s high concentration of oil and gas, which hasn’t recovered.
  • 45 counties in Colorado had unemployment rates that were equal to or less than the U.S.’s rate of 3.3%. In the major metro areas, Pueblo had the highest at 5.1% while Boulder had the lowest at 2.5%. 

Colorado job site to get facelift

The state’s official job board is getting a revamp. At least behind the scenes. 

The Colorado Department of Labor and Employment awarded a $1.6 million contract to Pairin this month to upgrade the system. The existing one “has served the state for nearly 25 years and was due for an upgrade,” a labor department spokesperson said. 

Apparently, ConnectingColorado.com, which had 121,496  job postings Friday, is more than just a job board. While it connected hundreds of thousands of unemployed workers to  (sometimes useless) openings — registration is required to receive unemployment benefits — it could be so much more.

Michael Simpson, cofounder and CEO of Pairin, wants to make sure that happens. The Denver tech company develops digital tools for labor agencies to train their staff and better educate the local workforce. The company will take on a larger role of steering Coloradans into careers people might be interested in based on their history, skills and past experience. 

Pairin’s digitized system is like an attentive career counselor who does research and asks questions to learn a person’s interests, background and skills. But Pairin can do that faster through programming logic. Once it knows who the candidate is — an inmate, a student, a professional — it provides a personalized career path, plus educational training.

The company first partnered with the state in 2019 to launch My Colorado Journey, which guides middle and high schoolers into thinking about their future. But the technology helps grown-ups, too, who may have fallen off a career path.

“All 15 prison systems in the state of Colorado now use My Colorado Journey in the three to six months before someone is released to connect them to jobs and housing and training services,” Simpson said. 

Example of resume creator that is proposed as part of Pairin’s upgrade to the Connecting Colorado system. (Screengrab)

That’s the gist of what Pairin plans to do with Connecting Colorado. Not just link people to careers but show them how to get there through a journey. The proposal for the state contract mentions that a revamp of the system would give users access to resume and cover letter creator tools that can be tailored for each job application. There’s also professional feedback through the tool, which could help alleviate the workload of workforce center staff who have too many people to help. That’s very different from scanning the old job board.

“It was built 25 years ago, you can’t expect it to meet the needs of modern society,” Simpson said. “We’re replacing the entire case management system for the whole state, which is part of Connecting Colorado.”

Expect the new system to launch in the third quarter of 2023, according to the labor department. 

Related: 

⇒ Dual state job fair: The labor departments of Colorado and Wyoming are teaming up Tuesday to host a virtual job fair. It starts at 10 a.m. for veterans and their spouses then opens to everyone else at 11 a.m. The event will end at 2 p.m. >> Register


PopSockets supports fair labor even outside of the U.S.

PopSockets first gained traction with a crowdfunding campaign in 2013 to become what is arguably the most popular way to hold a slippery smartphone while scrolling. 

The Boulder accessory maker, which has sold more than 250 million of its “pop grips,” now has a small manufacturing facility in Boulder plus it works with eight contract manufacturers in six countries. It’s now taking a stand to support fair labor not just at home, but in China, Vietnam, Mexico and elsewhere.

“It’s been an ongoing process,” said Sandeep Patel, PopSocket’s president and chief financial officer. “One of the things we did in one of our factories is we asked them to put in place an anonymous grievance hotline. We have a factory in China and most (factories) don’t have one. It’s a simple thing if somebody has an issue, do they have a mechanism to raise that issue in a way that they are not going to be retaliated against.”

The company was awarded a fair-labor designation this month by the Fair Labor Association because of efforts “to improve workers’ lives” throughout its global supply chain, the association said. Only 31 companies are FLA accredited, a process that can take three to five years to complete, Sharon Waxman, FLA’s president and CEO, said in an email.

“Earning accreditation can be challenging,” Waxman said. “Each accredited company has been evaluated by FLA in areas ranging from the commitment of its leadership to upholding fair labor standards, to systems designed to ensure that its factories provide decent and humane working conditions to employees.” 

FLA’s documentation implies that most factory workers don’t earn a living wage and work more than local laws allow. It looks to the Global Living Wage Coalition as a guideline and has its own toolkit to help its member companies. 

PopSockets expects to raise wages of its contract factory workers to get them closer to a livable wage in their country, and reduce average overtime to the legal limits by 2025. Initial goals are to get 30% of its suppliers’ workers to their country’s living wage levels and reduce average overtime to legal limits by 2025. 

“Another good example is the amount of overtime,” Patel said. “We can have better planning in place so that we can give the factories more advanced warning, like, here’s when we think we need to produce. We take that into account in our (process) rather than it being an afterthought and well, you at the factory, you figure it out.” 

Other working bits

⇒ Down to $33.1 million debt: Colorado is on track to pay off the federal loan it needed to cover unemployment benefits in the pandemic. On Friday, the state had paid off all but $33,089,860.58, down from its staggering $1 billion IOU just earlier this year. The state is one of five states (plus Virgin Islands) still paying off the loan, reports Route Fifty. >> Story (ICYMI: the earlier Sun story)

⇒ Social Security benefits going up 8.7% in 2023: As the cost of living has increased this year, that’s impacting next year’s cost-of-living adjustment for Americans on Social Security. According to the administration, benefits will increase 8.7%, or an average of $140 per month, starting in January. >> See details


As always, share your two cents on how the economy is keeping you down or helping you up at cosun.co/heyww. See you next week! ~ tamara 

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Tamara Chuang

Tamara writes about businesses, technology and the local economy for The Colorado Sun. She also writes the "What's Working" column, available as a free newsletter at coloradosun.com/getww....