Colorado seems to be in a bit of a standstill when it comes to jobs.
Job growth in July was flat. The higher unemployment rate, an increase of one-tenth of a percentage point to 2.9%, is considered insignificant. And the percent of working-age adults in the labor force is the same as it was in June, according to the Colorado job report for July.
Economists from the University of Colorado theorized last week that perhaps we’re running out of able-bodied workers. A new report from the local conservative think tank Common Sense Institute points to a mismatch between the types of skills required in unfilled jobs and the skills of folks looking for work. There’s also child care, or lack thereof, that may have led women with children to drop out of the labor force.
Whatever is happening, “Colorado isn’t really an exception here,” said Ryan Gedney, principal economist with the state’s Department of Labor and Employment, during a news conference to discuss the latest job data.
Economists look at how many job openings there are per unemployed worker and Colorado’s rate is about 2 or 2.5 openings per unemployed worker.
That, Gedney said, “is a little bit higher than it was pre-pandemic, which was also a very tight labor market. (But) all 50 states currently have high rates of job openings compared to pre-pandemic levels. Colorado has maybe a little bit of a tighter labor market depending on how you measure it but really we’re seeing that all across the nation.”
Understanding the labor and jobs data
Here are the actual, but preliminary, data points for July:
- 3,157,496 — Number of Coloradans ages 16 and older who are employed
- 95,036 — Number of working-age Coloradans unemployed
- 3,252,532 — Colorado’s labor force, or the count of folks working or looking for work (the sum of the two numbers above)
- 2.9% — Colorado’s unemployment rate (the product of dividing the number of unemployed by the total labor force)
Some things to know about the data is that these are estimates made by the Bureau of Labor Statistics through surveys.
And even if the numbers seem flat, Colorado’s labor force is the largest it has ever been, at least as of 1976. The number employed is also the largest, if only by 24 individuals compared with the second-highest month of June 2023.
But 25 years ago, a greater portion of the state’s adults were part of the workforce. Back in the 1990s and early 2000s, Colorado’s participation rate was in the low- to mid-70s, with July and August 1998 posting the highest labor force participation rate of 74.3%. We were at 68.7% last month. Remember though, baby boomers made up a good portion of the workforce. The youngest turns 59 this year, so many have likely retired.
Gedney pointed out that these days, 87% of Coloradans ages 25 to 54 are part of the labor force now. It probably won’t surprise anyone that every Colorado millennial — the largest generation in Colorado, according to the State Demographer’s Office — is now in that age group.
“That marks the first time since 1999 that the state’s 25 to 54 participation rate has reached 87%. For reference, the historically high rate for that group is 87.4%, which was accomplished in 1994 and 1995 when the baby boomers were all concentrated within the ages of 25 and 54,” he said.
A lot of them may be parents, too. According to CSI’s analysis of job data, women with children haven’t all returned to the labor force. This group’s participation rate dropped 3.51% between January 2020 and July 2023. At the same time, women without children have increased their participation rate by 0.6%.
“Though the female labor force participation rate has returned to pre-pandemic levels in Colorado, child care continues to be a challenge for many women,” according to CSI’s latest report on the state’s workforce woes, written by Tamra Ryan, CEO of the Women’s Bean Project.
While women made up 49.8% of the employees in the U.S. as of May, women are more likely in low-wage jobs, which often have fewer benefits like paid leave and maternity leave. “Families without access to reliable child care work fewer hours or not at all,” she noted.
Trying to draw out the folks who are underemployed or are no longer working — folks with disabilities, the formerly incarcerated, older workers and parents of younger children — is what needs to be addressed. Suggested solutions included reassessing job openings that require a four-year degree or a high school diploma. Comparing Colorado adults with various levels of education, those with no high school diploma had the highest unemployment rate of 4.2%. High school graduates with no college degree had a 2.6% unemployment rate.
“It’s no secret that Colorado faces a worker shortage. With the baseline outlook indicating little improvement in the future, the state needs to reach out to untapped and chronically underemployed individuals to bridge the divide between the demand and supply of skilled labor,” the report concluded.
Colorado’s 190,000 job openings
A different monthly jobs report also came out this week, and it has Colorado slightly above the national average for the number of job openings in June.
At 6.1%, a rate calculated by comparing openings to employment, Colorado ranked 19th in a six-way tie. The state had an estimated 190,000 job openings in June.
But the state is below average and in the bottom third for its rate of hiring, job cuts and layoffs, and people quitting their jobs, according to the Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey, or JOLTS, which provides insight into how each state’s work environment contributes to the national economy. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. Most states had higher rates of involuntary and voluntary (i.e., quitting) job separations.
JOLTS data can change dramatically from month to month so it’s best to look at the trend, reminded Gedney, with the state’s labor department.
Just a few months earlier in April, the state ranked first in the nation, with an 8.2% job openings rate. There’s more.
“However, January’s rate of 6.5% ranked 31st, while May’s rate of 6.1% ranked 24th,” Gedney said in an email. “Keep in mind that both the January and May 2023 openings rates far surpassed Colorado’s peak openings rate of 5.4% prior to the pandemic, so it’s all relative.”
Gedney also shared his calculations on the six-month moving average — it was 6.9% through June, which was 2.4 percentage points higher than February 2020’s six-month average of 4.5%.
“That differential is seventh highest when compared to other states, which does indicate that Colorado has a relatively higher openings rate now (i.e., the past six months) compared to just before the pandemic than most states,” he wrote.
Ditto for the other states. All 50, he calculated, also have six-month seasonal job openings averages that are higher than before the pandemic.
“In short, we’re still seeing historically high job openings rates across the nation,” he wrote.
For fun, here’s an interactive chart showing how volatile monthly data is, by charting Colorado’s rank compared with the rest of the nation for the past 24 months, ending in June. Press the arrow and watch the yellow line (Colorado) bob up and down. The red bar is the U.S. average. The blue bars are the other states. Hover over each bar to see the state’s rank and rate.
➔ Another take: Colorado ranks No. 9. That’s according to WalletHub, a consumer finance site that used JOLTS data to rate and rank states by their job openings rates over 12 months. At 7.03%, Colorado was a smidge above North Carolina and Tennessee (both at 7.02%) but below New Mexico’s eighth-place finish at 7.15%. Alaska topped the list with 8.37% over the past 12 months, while New York had the lowest, at 4.73%. WalletHub’s translation of the data: These are the top states where “employers are struggling the most in hiring.” >> View analysis
Other highlights from July jobs report
Employers added 800 nonfarm payroll jobs in July, which is another month of slowing job growth. In June, there were 1,800 jobs added.
The government sector had the largest gain in jobs, but the private sector lost jobs, including 3,500 leisure and hospitality jobs in July, a month typically known for a surge in activity. Gedney theorized that perhaps employers changed how they hire. The sector, which includes hotels and restaurants, has ramped up in the past year, adding 4,800 jobs in October, 5,100 in December and more than 5,000 each in April and May, which is “historically for that industry, very large gains,” he said.
Likely, the low July number will be revised upward.
And that’s a reminder that a lot of the job data is based on small surveys and estimates. The jobs data, for example, relies on employers sharing their figures. When employers respond after the monthly deadline, those answers can lead to revisions. That’s why Colorado’s June numbers were revised downward to 1,800 new jobs instead of the previously reported 4,700.
“It’s also important to keep in mind that response rates are historically low I’d say in the nation and that has downstream effects too for states,” he said. “Those are factors that can impact our estimates.”
➔ Unemployment rates around the state:
- Boulder: 3.3%
- Colorado Springs: 3.7%
- Denver area: 3.4%
- Fort Collins: 3.8%
- Grand Junction: 3.8%
- Greeley: 3.6%
- Pueblo: 4.8%
- Colorado: 2.9%
- U.S.: 3.5%
Take the poll: Working or not?
With more than two jobs for every unemployed, working-age Coloradan, the state’s labor market is tight, making it difficult for employers to find workers, according to the official data. But folks stop working for a variety of reasons: retirement, health, etc. What about you, or someone you know? Take the latest What’s Working poll at cosun.co/wwworking
➔ We’re still collecting comments from last week’s poll about inflation so if you haven’t taken that, here’s the ink: cosun.co/WWbetterornot
Other working bits
➔ State economic development office gets $1 million cybersecurity grant. The U.S. Small Business Administration named the Colorado Office of Economic Development and International Trade as one of six recipients for its Cybersecurity for Small Business Pilot Program. Each will also receive a $1 million grant. The pilot aims to connect cybersecurity tools and training to small businesses in the respective states. Other recipients included the University of Wyoming, State of Hawaii Cybersecurity Assistance for Small Businesses and the Indiana Economic Development Corp.
➔ 2 full-time staffers available to the right school district. Apprenticeship Colorado, the state’s official job training program, is hunting for school districts. The agency has a pilot program to put two full-time (and fully paid) outreach specialists at two school districts somewhere in the state to help graduating students identify career paths and get hired as apprentices at local employers. But which schools? That’s up to the districts to make a pitch. Deadline is Sept. 6. >> Make a pitch
Thanks for sticking with me for this week’s report. If any readers live in Colorado Springs, our team will be hosting a meet and greet on August 23 at 5:30 p.m. Stop on by and say hello! (Here are the event details.)
Miss a column? Catch up:
- Denver had the second highest annual inflation rate in the U.S. last month
- What would you do with $10,000? A new Denver venture firm wants to know.
- Where to get rid of hard-to-toss items in Colorado — and also benefit society
- Denver still a top 10 city for tech, thanks to tech wages outpacing rent growth
- Job openings in Colorado decline as employers presumably find the staff they need
- Inflation in rural Colorado is likely higher than it is in the Denver area
What’s Working is a Colorado Sun column about surviving in today’s economy. Email firstname.lastname@example.org 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.