Data Sense: Mix of local jobs changes as labor market strengthens

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Brandon Owens

— The local labor market is on the mend. According to the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment, the Routt County unemployment rate in June was 6.6 percent. This is down from the rate of 7.7 percent in June 2012. During the past year, the number of local jobs grew by 94 while the labor force shrunk by 62 jobs. The seasonally adjusted unemployment rate has been on the decline since January 2011. However, the current rate still is well above the ultra-low rate of 2.2 percent experienced in March 2007.

Thus, the latest data indicates that the labor market continues to gradually recover from the Great Recession. However, there is considerable ground to cover before we return to anything resembling the 2007 employment peak. In 2007, there were 15,004 jobs in Routt County. By 2011, the local economy had shed 2,414 jobs. Between 2011 and 2013, 845 jobs returned to the county. When we dig inside the numbers, it is clear that the jobs that have come back since 2009 are different from those that were lost. This shift in the job mix has resulted in a very subtle — but important — transformation of the Yampa Valley labor market.

The Colorado and U.S. departments of labor and employment provide the Quarterly Census of Employment and Wages report, which tracks monthly jobs by industry at the county level. The most recent report, which contains data through the end of 2012, reveals that that some industries have lost jobs since 2007 and some have gained. For example, the number of construction jobs in Routt County declined by 1,753 (59 percent) between December 2007 and December 2012. Retail trade jobs also declined by 366 (19 percent). Jobs related to fishing and hunting fell by 31 (30 percent). In addition, accommodations and food services jobs also fell by 123 (5 percent) during this period. In contrast to the job losses in these industries, the picture is different for jobs related to company management, health care, education, public administration and other professional services. The combined number of jobs in these industries grew by 207 (6 percent) between 2007 and 2012. The report does not include self-employed proprietors.

This change indicates that the local job market has marginally shifted toward locally focused, permanent roles and away from economically driven jobs. This type of transformation makes sense. In the wake of the recession, we would expect the labor market to move toward jobs that are locally focused and away from those that require a continuous stream of visitors or constant economic growth on order to sustain. The transformation in the composition of jobs since the Great Recession tells us that the local job market is likely to be more resilient in the face of the next economic downturn.

Of course, economically driven jobs still are critical to the economy and will be enthusiastically welcomed when they return in full force. However, we’ll need to see an increase in economic activity and a surge in local construction for these jobs to return to their 2007 peak levels. In the meantime, the job market will continue its gradual recovery and its ongoing transformation toward a more recession-proof jobs mix.

Brandon Owens is an independent contractor for Yampa Valley Data Partners, a regional nonprofit organization serving Moffat and Routt counties. The organization’s mission is to strengthen our communities through collaborative partnerships and providing relevant, timely, accessible data to decision makers. Find more information at www.yampavalleypartners.com.

Change in Routt County jobs by sector

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