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Help wanted signs in the windows of businesses in Crested Butte, Colorado on Saturday August 14, 2021. (Dean Krakel, Special to The Colorado Sun)

Ups and downs in the Colorado economy led to a mixed employment report for December. The state’s unemployment rate sunk to 3.3% from November. But also dropping? The number of Coloradans in the labor force.

That means during a month when more people traditionally take on a part-time or seasonal job, fewer were working or looking for work. Approximately, a drop of 7,200 individuals. It pulled the labor force participation rate down to 69%, or two-tenths of a point lower than in November. Ryan Gedney, senior economist with the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment, reminded that data always gets a second look so after revisions in the next few months, the December labor market may not seem so sour.

“We really saw a fast increase in the participation rate earlier in 2022 and then we’ve really seen it decline over the past three to four months,” Gedney said Friday during a news conference.  “But really, the change in the participation rate isn’t that great, moving from 69.6% (in August) to 69% (in December). The state has constantly been in the top five in participation rates for 2022 (compared) to the nation and other states.”

Colorado’s labor force is still near an all-time high, at 3,244,700 people, as of December.

And even though some workers dropped out of the job market, Colorado businesses said they added jobs in December — or 8,600 nonfarm payroll jobs, according to the business establishment survey. That’s how the state calculates the job recovery from the worst of the pandemic. Colorado has recovered 127.8% of the jobs lost in March and April 2020.

Meanwhile, the nation’s participation rate was much lower than Colorado’s, at 62.3% in December, or up one-tenth of a percentage point. The U.S. unemployment rate stayed the same at 3.6%. By comparison, the U.S. has recovered 105.6% of jobs lost in spring 2020.

Other highlights of the December report:

  • The Pueblo metro area had the state’s highest unemployment rate, at 4.3%. Boulder had the lowest, at 2.2%.
  • Average hourly earnings increased $2.16 in the past year and reached $35.52 in Colorado last month. Nationwide, the average was $32.82.
  • Most industries gained jobs. But financial activities, which includes mortgage lenders and real estate, lost 3,400 jobs.

>> View Colorado’s employment data


So annoying, that inflation

When prices increase, we shop differently, apparently. In What’s Working’s last poll “What’s on your alternative shopping list,” 62.5% of respondents said their shopping habits changed because of inflation.

And for those who did change, 84.1% blamed it on higher prices. (And one fortunate soul said the change was due to personal income increasing.)

Have your shopping habits changed because of inflation? Of course, say What’s Working readers in the Jan. 14, 2023 poll.

What habits changed? 

“Less cheese, less eggs, more oats,” said one. “Ground beef to ground turkey,” said another. “I continue to eat eggs but also now eat scrambled tofu many days for breakfast,” said someone else.

Others just cut down on their expenses. “Goodbye, Starbucks. Goodbye cable movie channels package.” “Used to get 2 full carts a month, now I get 2 half carts a month.”

While others had opposite strategies: Matthew from Westminster shared, “We are minimalists and prepare all our food. So the food (inflation) hasn’t affected us too much.” While a woman from Drake said, “Less scratch cooking — buying mixes that don’t require the addition of eggs, like pancake mix in the box.” (Due to the egg shortage, the Drake resident added that she’s had to keep going back to town in search of eggs “so availability is as big a deal as price.”) 

Readers share why their shopping habits changed in the What’s Working reader poll from Jan. 14, 2023.

Meanwhile Karen Zink from Durango made no changes shopping on her food purchases. “I figure my investment in nutrition pays off for disease prevention and savings in health care costs so I’ve made no changes in food purchases. I try not to waste anything and cook at home from scratch, basic foods, nothing fancy,” she wrote.

The biggest pain, however, was higher energy prices. A lot of folks shared energy bills that had doubled in a year. A woman from Littleton said her bill went to $392 from $189 and called it “criminal.” Jaimie from Denver said their bill jumped to $280 in November, from $170 a year earlier despite “no usage increase.” One person added that energy bills aren’t an issue: “I installed a heat pump, have solar panels and drive an EV.”

Some of the sleeper costs to watch out for? Property taxes, which “have extensive ripple effects,” said Joe Megeath in Denver. Another Denverite bemoaned city fees, like garbage (which went from nothing to $250 a year), and the new sidewalk tax (“$430,” he said, though other homeowners will see more or less). John Drigot from Fort Collins said his home insurance went up 32.5% even with “no claims in the past year.” 

Let readers speak! The What’s Working poll on how shopping habits changed due to inflation let readers write it their own reasons of what annoys them most about inflation.

I reached out further to Pablo Fernandez, who lives in Denver. The civil engineer, who hails from Spain, offered a more global perspective on what we’re dealing with locally. 

“In the U.S., people complain absurdly about pricing,” he wrote. “They complain about energy prices. But they don’t see the big picture. Drivers in the U.S. pay an absurd amount of money for vehicle insurance, while they overlook simple things such as infrastructure. They are against tolls, but they seem happy to incur heavy costs as a result of subpar infrastructure (such as accidents, congestion, insurance premiums). Roads in Colorado are in poor shape, and we should pay steep tolls to make roads safer (better pavement, visible striping, reflectors embedded in the asphalt between lanes, emergency lanes clear of debris, overhead lights on sections of the road prone to accidents). I would be happy to pay tolls in exchange for lower insurance premiums.”

Touché!

Thanks to everyone who took the poll and shared thoughts and comments.

➔ Need help figuring out Xcel’s time-of-use pricing?

  • Xcel Energy now charges many Colorado customers more to use electricity between 1 p.m. to 7 p.m. during the week. It also costs more in the summer. Off-peak fees are 12 cents per kilowatt hour, while the most expensive time, between 3 and 7 p.m. is 19 cents in winter and 29 cents in summer. Or opt out and pay 13-cents all the time, according to Xcel.
Xcel has its own infographic on what time of use means for Colorado customers.
  • Avoid heating (or cooling) your home between peak hours of 3 p.m. to 7 p.m. on weekdays. A central air conditioner that normally costs 10-cents per hour during off-peak time, runs 71 cents at peak hours. Xcel’s visual guide
  • Get help paying energy bills:
    • Xcel’s energy assistance program >> Options
    • Low-income Energy Assistance Program (LEAP), a federally funded program to assist with paying heating bills and equipment repair. >> Apply or call  866-432-8435

Take this week’s poll:

Colorado lawmakers are back in session. What should they be working on to make your work life better? Take the poll: https://cosun.co/worklaws

Colorado has largest per-gallon increase in gas 

What happened to gasoline prices? The AAA gas tracker reported a gallon of regular gas in Colorado averaged $3.56 on Friday, up 31 cents from last week and up 70 cents from one month ago. Nationwide, the hike wasn’t so steep, at a $3.39 average on Friday, up 11 cents from last week and up 27 cents from a month ago.

There’s unseasonably high gas demand, according to AAA, which elaborated in a statement that “despite the messy West Coast weather, a mild winter elsewhere in the nation may have led to more drivers getting behind the wheel.” Expect prices to continue to go up over the weekend, if demand continues, AAA predicted.

The Suncor Energy oil refinery on July 18, 2021, in Commerce City, Colorado. (Photo By Kathryn Scott)

But why Colorado? Blame Suncor Energy’s temporary shutdown of its Commerce City oil refinery on Christmas Eve. A fire damaged equipment so the facility went offline so repairs could be made. The refinery produces 35% to 40% of the state’s gasoline and diesel fuel, according to a CPR News report quoting the Colorado Wyoming Petroleum Markets Association. Price spikes were predicted. The refinery is expected to reopen in late March.

➔ Need fuel saving tips? >> AAA shares 

Other working bits

➔ Space company moving HQ to Colorado: ThinkOrbital, a space infrastructure startup awarded two U.S. Space Force contracts in September, picked Colorado for its headquarters. It’s currently leasing space in Lafayette and is looking for a permanent location in the Boulder and Denver metro regions. It only has one employee here today, with 10 others elsewhere, but it plans to add 60 new jobs averaging an annual wage of $80,433 within eight years. If it meets that hiring goal, it will qualify for up to $547,577 in tax credits as part of the state’s Job Growth Incentive Tax Credits. 

King Soopers workers in the Denver metro area began 2022 by going on strike to protest unsafe work conditions and unfair wages. A contract was successfully reached after nine days of picketing. It spurred workers at other companies to unionize, including employees at a number of Starbucks stores. (Olivia Sun, The Colorado Sun)

➔ 10.1% union membership rate is lowest on record but …: Given the amount of union activity last year, the new BLS report seems like a shocker. Rates of union membership fell to 10.1% last year, down from 10.3% in 2021. That’s the number of workers in the U.S. who are union members. But you’ve got to look at that denominator: There were just a lot more workers. Ultimately, union membership grew 1.9% to 14.3 million workers last year, up 273,000 from the prior year. But the number of workers overall grew by 5.3 million or 3.9%. Other notable bits:

  • Union membership among public sector workers, at 33%, was five times higher than private-sector workers, at 6%.
  • Earnings for non-union workers were 85% that of union members, or $1,029 vs. $1,216 in median weekly earnings.
  • Colorado’s union membership grew 7.8% last year to 178,000 members. That didn’t make a dent in the overall labor force. Workers represented by unions still made up 7.5% of workers overall, the same rate as 2021. Colorado ranked 36th for highest union membership rate among the 50 states and D.C. In other words, Colorado was in the bottom third. 

➔ Tech layoffs show up in Colorado? Fall layoffs at the large coastal technology companies may have impacted Colorado after all. The latest Job Openings and Labor Turnover Summary placed Colorado in the top three states nationwide for “job separations” in November. That coincides with thousands of layoffs announced around that time by Twitter, Facebook and Amazon. According to the JOLTS report, the state had 23,000 separations in that month. But Gedney, the labor department’s economist, said unemployment claims didn’t tick up largely in November, which was below pre-pandemic levels. 

“I’m not sure if there are any signs of employers cutting back. If you look at JOLTS for November, (job) openings were pretty high,” Gedney said. “But again, the data is pretty volatile on a month-to-month basis.” 

Colorado’s job openings rate was 6.5% in November, compared to 6.2% a year ago. 

➔ Layoffs announced: At least three companies told the state so far in January that they are laying off workers as part of the Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act requirement: 

  • Wanzek Construction lost a contract to build a new solar-powered steel mill expansion for EVRAZ North America in Pueblo. It shut down Jan. 3 and laid off 666 workers in the city. KRDO reported that EVRAZ filed a federal lawsuit alleging that Wanzek didn’t complete work it was supposed to, among other things. >> WARN notice, KRDO
  • Specialized Bicycle Components is laying off 120 employees nationwide, including 15 at its Boulder location on Airport Boulevard. The company cited “current economic circumstances” for the layoffs. >> WARN notice 
  • London-based Gymshark, which makes workout apparel, is ceasing operations in some areas of the company and will cut 67 jobs in Denver. The company opened an office in Denver in 2019, according to the Denver Business Journal. Further details of the layoffs were not available. >> WARN notice

ICYMI: Colorado Sun stories on the economy

➔ Retirement plan launches for Coloradans without one: The SecureSavings plan is now open to workers and employers who don’t have one. Employers must enroll their staff but needn’t contribute to the employee retirement plans. Instead, the state sets up Roth IRAs for participants so employee contributions (the default is 5% of one’s paycheck) are invested into stocks to help build a larger savings nest for retirement. So far, 129 companies of an estimated 115,000 eligible businesses have enrolled. >> Read

➔ Colorado ski areas open day cares to attract high country workers in child care desert: Adding child care for employees is helping Steamboat, Breckenridge and other ski resorts attract workers, reports Jennifer Brown. >> Read

➔ Missed Gov. Polis’ State of the State address? We’ve annotated it to add context and reactions by lawmakers. >> Read


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Thanks for sticking with me for this week’s report. As always, share your 2 cents on how the economy is keeping you down or helping you up at cosun.co/heyww. ~ tamara 


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What’s Working is a Colorado Sun column about surviving in today’s economy. Email tamara@coloradosun.com with stories, tips or questions. Read the archive, ask a question at cosun.co/heyww and don’t miss the next one by signing up at coloradosun.com/getww

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. Contact her at cosun.com/heyww,...