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A hiring sign at a store for retail jobs at the Parks Mall in Lone Tree on Sept. 18, 2022. (Tamara Chuang, The Colorado Sun)

Quick links: Colorado’s job board has 91,000 listings| Lightcast counted 94,000 but here’s why there’s more | Underpaid and underemployed | Other bits

If you’ve been looking for a job or minding the state’s economy, you may be wondering, are there really 190,000 job openings in Colorado?

That’s the official June estimate from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, as What’s Working reported last week. It comes from the monthly Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey, or JOLTS, which also looks at how many workers are getting hired, fired or quitting. Combine the openings with the 95,000 unemployed Coloradans looking for a job last month, the ratio is two jobs for every one unemployed person — pretty stark. 

But where do those numbers come from?

No, BLS economists don’t actually count every job listing out there (though at least one organization attempts to do that — more on that below). 

According to the federal agency, it uses a mix of modeling, surveys and estimates partly from a random sample of 21,000 nonfarm business and government establishments that fill out a form each month. But there are limits. Contract workers, for example, aren’t counted. And for smaller states like Colorado, sometimes not enough businesses respond to the survey, leading BLS to model the JOLTS data on other employment data, like the Quarterly Census of Employment and Wages, which covers 95% of nonfarm payroll jobs.

It’s the consistent process that provides value for economists looking at changes and trends.

Job openings have declined in Colorado as businesses recovered from the pandemic. In the past two years, rarely a month went by when job openings dropped below 200,000. And they were usually upwards of 220,000 to 240,000. But the state’s current low of 190,000 is up 60% from 119,000 before the pandemic in February 2020. 

“Colorado has a staggering number of job openings compared to where you were in February of 2020,” said Rachel Sederberg, senior economist and research manager for Lightcast, a market research firm that tracks jobs. “Now there are 190,000 and that is a much bigger jump than what we’re seeing nationally. That’s almost double. You’re a little tighter than other places but in line, generally speaking, because we are in a tighter labor market than we were pre-pandemic when we thought that things were really great.” 

In the U.S., the number of job openings was 9.6 million in June, down from a high of 12 million in March 2022. But the latest figure is 37% higher than the 7 million openings in February 2020. In the U.S., there’s roughly 1.8 jobs for every unemployed person.

“The data is showing that things have changed, the levels have changed,” said Larry Akinyooye, a BLS economist. “I think it’s just the business cycle we’re in. It goes up and down. I think we’re just at that moment, which is good depending on what side you want to take, you know, it may not be that good. … We’re seeing that with a lot of states.”

Are there really 190,000 job openings?

One needn’t look too far to find a source for more than 90,000 job openings in Colorado. 

On Friday on the state’s official job at Connecting Colorado, there were 91,073 open jobs. Approximately 80,384 were added in the past month. 

The largest numbers were in “transportation and material moving” jobs, at 13.3%. These are jobs that “move people and goods,” according to BLS definitions, and include occupations like pilots, truck drivers and water transportation workers. But the number of jobs may be much larger since a unique posting could be hiring for two or more people in the same role. One such posting, a ramp agent for Frontier Airlines, is seeking multiple agents.

Computer and math-type job postings had topped the list in the past couple of years but that occupation plummeted to 11,761 on Friday, or just one-third the count from a year ago. Many big tech companies began shedding jobs in the past year as they lowered their expectations and also cut down on remote working, so the decline in Colorado makes sense.

Since What’s Working has been tracking the jobs for the past three years, here’s the comparison for 2021, 2022 and yesterday, which show how the mix of most in-demand occupations have changed. The three days we had data for were May 21, 2021; Aug. 5, 2022; and Friday.

This one job board, however, doesn’t get us to 190,000 openings alone. Not every employer advertises here, including companies like Amazon or federal agencies like the Postal Service.

And the USPS, for one, is wrapping up a week of job fairs to fill 1,000 positions in Colorado. It’s not only ramping up for the upcoming holiday season, it has to fill openings left by employees who leave.

“In Colorado 29% of our current workforce will be eligible for retirement in the next four years,”  USPS spokeswoman Kristina Uppal said in an email. “We are not only hiring for our future, we are gearing up for the holiday season.”

US Post Office rural carrier James Wood delivers mail to the exceptional in-town residents, such as for medical reasons, in town before venturing out on the rural route outside town limits on June 7, 2022, in Buena Vista. Buena Vista does not have a in-town delivery carrier. Wood works six days a week as a postmaster for 11 years with about 100 miles a day of delivering packages amid staff shortages. (Hugh Carey, The Colorado Sun)

Over at Lightcast, analysts attempt to find every job posting available online. 

“What Lightcast does is we source job openings from as many places on the internet as we can — job boards, postings of employers — we try to agglomerate and then deduplicate to get the universe or near universal job openings,” Sederberg said. “Our method is a little bit different (from BLS).” 

It’s not complete. “We’re limited to what is posted on the internet. If there are informal job boards or you’re not posting it on the internet, we’re not going to be able to find them,” she added.

For Colorado, Lightcast counted up 94,000 unique postings in Colorado during June from about 15,000 employers. Like the state’s job board though, some of those postings advertise multiple jobs, so that’s why she feels the JOLTS data is not far off. 

That said, Lightcast data is about 85% in agreement with the JOLTS data, she said, “and that’s a very good number.”

Lightcast compared the number of unique job postings in Colorado the first half of 2019 and 2023. One trend spotted? The demand for service-type workers who can fill positions without a college degree or much training appears to be on the rise. 

“What we have for openings are primarily among the service sector and frontline jobs that don’t require a degree,” Sederberg said. “That’s a mismatch that’s being discussed. We have a highly educated workforce but the workers we need don’t need that level of education. We have a misalignment and that misalignment has been growing far wider over time. That’s why we’re seeing a lot of open jobs and why we’re concerned.” 

Are there really 95,000 Coloradans looking for work?

The 95,000 unemployed Coloradans is a figure shared monthly in the federal and state employment situation report. It’s different from who is collecting unemployment benefits. (That number, by the way, was 21,581 Coloradans as of Aug. 5.)

It estimates how many people age 16 and older are unemployed and made an attempt to look for a job in the past four weeks. It doesn’t count people who want a job but gave up looking for one. Nor does it count people who are underemployed, underpaid or who work part-time. It also excludes recent hires still waiting to start a new gig so they stopped looking in the past month. 

A billboard in Denver advertising openings for drivers appears strategically placed in a open parking lot. The openings, at Denver Public Schools, pay $24.40 an hour plus benefits. (Tamara Chuang, The Colorado Sun)

It includes job seekers like Brandon DeHamer, a Loveland resident who’s been looking for a remote software management position. He said he’s applied to 670 jobs in the past four months.

In his estimation, the 2:1 ratio is misleading. There’s way more people looking for work and the jobs don’t quite fit who’s looking.

“I firmly believe that I could get a job tomorrow if I was willing to be significantly underemployed and drastically alter my standard of living,” DeHamer said in an email. “I’m a software engineering manager with more than 17 years of experience. My salary has been six-figures for more than a decade. However, I get contacted several times per week by recruiters about mid-level software engineer positions that would typically only require four years of experience and pay less than half my past compensation.”

What’s Working has heard from a lot of readers in the same situation. 

Kate, a Denver-area resident who asked that her last name not be used, turned to substitute teaching as she searched for a full-time job in her field. With a college degree in psychology and a master’s in organizational development and leadership, she’s also been working in early-childhood education since 2008. But she’s had just five interviews since October even though she’s applied for many, many more jobs.  

“The amount of applications I put out there is insane,” she said in an email. “So, yeah, there are jobs out there, but I can’t work for $20 an hour anymore. I literally can’t afford that and I went through the hard work for my degrees. Indeed keeps sending me suggestions for roles at $24 to $25 per hour. Our budget and my debt from high-interest loans I had to take out to keep a roof over our heads this last year — I need $30.”

And that’s with an advanced degree.

To attract workers during the pandemic, the McDonald’s on Broadway in Littleton advertised wages of $17 to $20 an hour. (Dale Taylor, special to The Colorado Sun)

Sederberg, with Lightcast, said that a 1:1 ratio may be what some think is healthy. But once you get there, it’s always going to fluctuate. 

“One thing going on is that the economy has been running hot. That translates into job openings as companies need to produce more goods, they need more workers to fill those roles,” she said. “It’s natural for the ratio of openings to unemployed people to swing, and it swings pretty wildly. If you look at what it was during the Great Recession, it was insanely flipped the other way. So there were many more unemployed people for each job opening.”

Finding that right balance is the challenge for policymakers and communities that want to keep their local economies growing but not ignore growth’s impact on higher housing costs, inadequate roads and outdated infrastructure. Colorado’s low unemployment rate doesn’t always translate into a great economy.

“I believe that it is a bad thing when the unemployment rate is too low or too high — the economy does not operate efficiently in both situations,” said Gary Horvath, an economist at in Broomfield. “It is bad when the ratio is six workers for one job. You might find a qualified worker, but that means five did not get a job. It is bad when there is one worker for two jobs. That means one company goes without a worker.”

He’s tracked Colorado’s economy for years and employers have been having trouble finding enough able-bodied workers since at least 2015, he said. Workers have been seeking skills that result in higher incomes. That’s left some occupations with the greatest demand as some of the lowest paid, such nurses and teachers. Besides, he added, the demographics are changing. 

“So why do we have the current labor shortage? Part of it is demographics. The lower fertility rates have meant fewer people in the workforce. The aging baby boomers mean there are fewer workers on the other end. The Gen X, millennials, and Gen Z have different preferences. The COVID-19 policies and experiences and remote working caused a change in the way people want to work,” Horvath said. “I think part of it can be attributed to fiscal policy. We have dumped lots of money into certain industries such as the CHIPS (and Science) Act and (Inflation Reduction Act) and we don’t have workers for the industries they are trying to grow.”

Missed the reader polls? 

We’ll wrap up the polls next time, so if you haven’t weighed in on the data showing there are two jobs for every unemployed, working-age Coloradan, here you go:

➔ And the inflation poll: We’re still collecting comments from last week’s poll about inflation so if you haven’t taken that, here’s the ink:

Other working bits

➔ United Airlines hiring student pilots straight out of MSU. Sort of. A rebooted effort to attract more pilots has United Airlines reuniting with Metropolitan State University of Denver’s pilot-training program. A past partnership expired in the pandemic so United retooled and rebranded a new one as its Aviate University Partnership. 

While still at MSU, students can get a conditional job offer from United. And after they graduate — as long as they get proper pilot certifications, enough flight hours from a regional airline partner and meet conduct and culture requirements — they can start piloting. Otherwise, said Kevin Kuhlmann, MSU Denver professor of aviation, students can follow the same track but after all that effort, they’ll still need to apply to United. “Your future is unclear and you have to pass that interview. Honestly, that’s the hardest thing,” he said.  

United has partnerships with other universities. But with MSU, it also gets to tap the school’s diverse student population. According to school officials, 30% are students of color and 20% are women, while the industry standard is 6% of pilots are female, said Keylen Villagrana, a spokeswoman for the university. >> More

An United Airlines pilot does a pre-flight check on the General Electric GEnx engine attached to the Boeing 787 Dreamliner aircraft on April 27, 2022 at Denver International Airport. (Hugh Carey, The Colorado Sun)

➔ This year’s Colorado Springs’s economic forum is free. Bill Craig is the new executive director of the University of Colorado Colorado Springs Economic Forum and he’s invited all those interested in the economy of the state’s second largest city to its annual UCCS Economic Forum on Sept. 7. Sessions on affordable housing and the impact of the CHIPS Act in the region, plus a state-of-the-economy address are on the agenda. >> Details and RSVP

➔ Free cybersecurity training for small businesses. The Boulder Chamber of Commerce is hosting a “Cybersecurity and your small business” free workshop by Google on Aug. 30 to get small companies up to speed on what cybersecurity practices to protect data, customers and the business. The hour-long workshop starts at 9 a.m. at Rembrandt Yard in Boulder. >> Register for free

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 ~ tamara 

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Tamara Chuang writes about Colorado business and the local economy for The Colorado Sun, which she cofounded in 2018 with a mission to make sure quality local journalism is a sustainable business. Her focus on the economy during the pandemic...