Don’t look at Colorado’s latest jobs report unless you want to be depressed, but know it may only be for a few months. The December numbers, released Friday, have the state’s unemployment rate on the rise, to 3.4%. Employers added just 300 jobs last month.
In the same report, November data was revised downward. Nonfarm jobs declined 2,500 instead of a loss of 700, while private sector jobs declined by 5,200, instead of 2,100.
“That represents the largest over-the-month decrease in private jobs for Colorado since December 2020 when 21,700 jobs were shed due to pandemic-related business restrictions,” said Ryan Gedney, senior economist with the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment.
But even those numbers will be revised in the near future. Gedney believes there was more job growth than the current data shows. That’s because the monthly data is based on sample sizes and estimates by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. The more thorough Quarterly Census of Employment and Wages, an effort between local and federal offices, will provide more concrete updates in March, he added.
“That’s actually coming from our unemployment insurance program where employers every quarter are required to report how many employees you have … what’s your wages and things of that nature,” Gedney said. “We started publishing (revisions) in 2013 when the state and the nation were coming out of the Great Recession. There was a lot of volatility in the estimates. We’re not required to publish it but the CDLE thought it was important for any stakeholders to understand and look at this information.”
In November, for example, CDLE said June 2023 job numbers are now expected to be revised upward by 40,900 jobs, which includes 15,800 more jobs in trade, transportation and utilities than the monthly report had indicated. And in 2022, every month’s unemployment rate in Colorado was revised as employers reported more jobs were added than estimated by the feds.
“We fully expect high upward revisions,” Gedney said.
He’s not the only economist shrugging their shoulders at federal data. “The BLS data has been so bad this year, that the monthly reports have limited value,” said Gary Horvath, an economist at Cber.co in Broomfield.
Unemployment numbers are up
That said, unemployment has been on the rise in Colorado, with the finance and professional/business services industries continuing to see some of the largest job declines in December. That’s about the time when Dish Network said it would lay off nearly 500 employees in Douglas County while Broadcom planned 184 job cuts in Broomfield. Elsewhere, numerous tech companies nationwide also announced layoffs.
The bright spot in 2023 was government hiring, which includes teachers. The sector added 2,000 jobs in December and 23,000 jobs for the year. In contrast, the worst-hit sector of finance and insurance lost 7,400 jobs in 2023, due to high-interest rates that made it more costly for consumers to take on a loan or buy a house. But the government is different. Gedney said the government sector took a long time to recover from the pandemic and strong hiring could be due to the last of the federal COVID relief provided to local governments.
Colorado’s unemployment rate increased to 3.4% in December, up from 3.3% in November. A year ago, it was 2.8%. By comparison, the U.S. unemployment rate was 3.7%.
More on Colorado unemployment
➔ Pueblo County had the highest metro-area unemployment rate in December, at 4.5%, which was not seasonally adjusted. Boulder and Fort Collins had the lowest, at 2.8%. Huerfano County had the highest by county, at 5.6%, while Kit Carson County was the lowest at 1.6%. Colorado’s not-seasonally adjusted rate was 3.2%. >> See all counties
➔ New jobless claims doubled in December. Approximately 30,936 people filed for unemployment for the first time in December, up from 14,226 in November, according to state job data. Not all may get approved. Also in December, the number of people still receiving unemployment benefits rose 2.9% from November to 123,131. A year earlier, there were 96,469 making a continued claim (not their first).
➔ Colorado has 2nd highest rate of open jobs. Most states didn’t see a big increase in the rate of job openings for November, the latest Job Openings and Labor Turnover Summary, but Colorado did and was one of two states noted for the increase. Colorado also ranked second nationwide for the largest rate increase in job openings, or 232,000 openings compared with 211,000 in October. That maintains Colorado’s ratio of two job openings for every unemployed worker (107,860 in November and 109,600 in December). But JOLTS also ranked the state as seventh highest for layoffs. >> Report
Colorado’s 2023 inflation slowed to 5.2%
In the latest What’s Working reader poll, most respondents said that their financial state going into 2024 is “better” than or the “same” as the past two years. Looking at the data that’s now rolling in for 2023, there’s reason for that sentiment.
Prices did not go down in 2023, especially in the Denver area, they just slowed. If the Federal Reserve does lower interest rates this year — and those in charge said they will consider it — that’s a sign that inflation has stabilized.
Denver’s annual inflation rate rose to 5.2% last year, which was lower than the 8% in 2022. Area consumers, however, saw prices rise faster than the nation, with an annual inflation rate of 4.1% for the year but 3.4% for December. The Bureau of Labor Statistics skips December for Denver and doesn’t officially measure Colorado’s rate.
Some workers, though more on the lower-end of the pay scale, did see wage increases in the past two years that were higher than inflation. But most households spent the past two years readjusting their spending habits to make do. “Road trips and free entertainment (e.g., rec centers and library!),” wrote Christine Hamilton-Pennell, who lives in Denver and is feeling “priced out.”
While the reader poll had many folks feeling they’re better financially than in the past two years, nearly half felt the grocery store was where they noticed inflation the most.
“Groceries,” wrote Mary Clark, in HIghlands Ranch, “because I’m reminded of the growing expense weekly. Not long ago, King Soopers had apples for $1/apple! Hard to believe.”
Higher prices to eat out, eat in and just food in general had one person chime in with, “Cost of food these days really bites.”
One explanation came from a small business owner in Grand Junction who wrote, “I spent all of 2022 and 2023 scrambling madly to raise my crew’s wages. I’m happy to say that I did it, although I’m sad to say the average breakfast ticket rose from $13.10 to $16.80. So, the cost of housing scarcity is being paid for by everyone twice: once in tax dollars for aid, a second time in elevated costs for everything else.”
Something to think about: BLS, which measures how food, housing and other prices change each month for consumers, estimates that households spend 13.4% of their monthly budget on food. Of that, 8.6% is for groceries and food eaten at home, and 4.9% is eating out. In the Denver area, food is 12.6% of monthly expenses but BLS doesn’t break it down further.
Housing, meanwhile, takes a much larger chunk so if you’ve owned your home for a few years, that cost probably hasn’t gone up significantly. We’ll explore how housing did in next week’s What’s Working.
Sun economy stories you may have missed
➔ What happened to $1.45 billion in Colorado business incentives? That’s how much has been approved in about 14 years of the state’s Job Growth Incentive Tax Credit. But a look into who cashed in shows the program had very few takers, just about 5%. At least so far. >> Read
➔ Mountain communities saw drop in real estate volume, but not prices. The average price for a single-family home in Steamboat was $1.73 million in 2023. In Aspen, a Florida car dealership owner set a record by paying $76 million, Jason Blevins reported. >> Read
➔ Rural Colorado gets $113.5 million to build broadband. The money is from the Capital Programs Fund from the federal government. With it, Colorado broadband officials awarded grants that’ll get fiber internet service to Avondale, Pagosa Springs, Buena Vista and other rural communities in two years. >> Read
➔ High cost of pets and health care: The Colorado Sun’s ongoing series of the high cost of living in Colorado is back with two new stories on the escalating costs of having a pet or insuring one’s health have become. Plus, if you missed the free Sun event on the topic, it’s now online to view:
Other working bits
➔ Denver airport: Less car theft, more food options. In the latter part of 2023, Denver International Airport installed more security cameras at parking lots, added concrete barriers to stop potential thieves from gate crashing and increased officers at lots to reduce the number of auto thefts. It helped, at least for the last two months of 2023, when November car thefts fell to 11, from 63 in October. December had 10, according to a news release. The District Attorney’s Office said it broke up a car-theft ring earlier in the year but that wasn’t the only one. The airport was called out in a July report by CBS News on the rise of auto thefts, while 9News earlier reported on the massive increase in catalytic converter thefts at DIA.
➔ Debt collector settles with Colorado, pays $500,000 for consumer refunds. Colorado Attorney General Phil Weiser went after TrueAccord, a debt collector that attempted to collect overdue loans from 28,728 Coloradans. But the loans were from unlicensed lenders associated with federally recognized Native American tribes. Most of the loan agreements had finance charges that “exceeded 500% APR and some approached 900% APR.” Colorado’s cap on finance charges is 12% but TrueAccord is alleged to have “used false, deceptive, or misleading representations” to collect the debt. TrueAccord agreed to pay $500,000 to the state to be used for consumer refunds. >> View stipulation order
Thanks for sticking with me for this week’s report. Remember to check out The Sun’s daily coverage online. 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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Type of Story: Analysis
Based on factual reporting, although it incorporates the expertise of the journalist and may offer interpretations and conclusions.
Type of Story: News
Based on facts, either observed and verified directly by the reporter, or reported and verified from knowledgeable sources.