By the Numbers: Routt County is a county that works



Scott Ford

— Routt County can be characterized as a county that works. The households in the county in 2011 received more than 65 percent of their annual household income from labor source activities such as working. Understanding who is working, who is not and the nature of that work in Routt County can provide useful insights when describing the local economy.

The terms “labor force” and “workforce” often are used interchangeably. However, they mean two very different things. Labor force is best understood as a demographic term for those ages 16 and older. In some situations, the demographic definition is narrowed even further to include only those in the general population between the ages of 16 and 64. Workforce is best understood as an economic term for those who received income from wage/salary or self-employment sources in the past 12 months. Again, this can be narrowed to those ages 16 and older or those ages 16 to 64.

The ratio between workforce and labor force yields the labor force participation rate. There has been a lot of attention in the media about this ratio. Nationally, the ratio has been hovering in the low 60 percent range. Without question, a lot of people lost jobs during the Great Recession. Nationally, the labor force participation has stagnated at about 63.5 percent. This is almost three percentage points below the pre-recession level. In Colorado, the labor force participation rate is about 70 percent.

Locally, the situation is very different. There are about 19,000 individuals in Routt County who are ages 16 and older. Of these, almost 15,000 were employed or self-employed at some point during 2011. This means the labor force participation rate in our county was very close to 80 percent. If we look at the more narrow definition of labor force, ages 16 to 64, the participation rate is very close to 90 percent. About 4,000 folks in the labor force demographic did not work in 2011. This group comprises mainly students, retirees, the disabled and, likely, stay-at-home parents.

A deeper look into the data yields insights into how much the folks who are identified as being in the workforce are actually working. What we know is that about 60 percent of the workforce worked 50 to 52 weeks in 2011. Of this 60 percent, the majority typically worked 35 hours per week or more. In fact, the average worker in Routt County worked 38.5 hours per week. (It was 40.3 hours for males and 36.0 hours for females.)

Data at this level does not make a distinction between full- and part-time employment. Embedded in these figures are individuals who likely are working two or more jobs. So an important question to ask is how many full-time, year-round jobs exist in Routt County's economy.

It is possible to look at wage/salary data to estimate the number of those receiving W2s at the end of the year who are working at a single job, full time and year-round. The number of folks who fall into this category is slightly less than 9,000 in Routt County. This means that it is reasonably safe to assume that about 60 percent of those who are working in Routt County are working for a single employer, full time and year-round. It is important to remember that this estimate does not include the self-employed, who in many situations also are working full time.

All this means is that the data supports the characterization that Routt County is a county that works. When compared to the other 64 counties in Colorado, Routt County has one of the highest labor force participation rates. In addition, it’s only slightly below the single employer, full-time, year-round percentages seen in the metropolitan counties of the Front Range.

Sources: U.S. Census Bureau, American Community Survey and Bureau of Economic Analysis

Scott L. Ford has lived in Steamboat Springs for 21 years and is the principal partner in The Pinnacle Economic Research Group. Ford can be reached at


Scott Wedel 3 years, 10 months ago

Do we really have fewer people with no jobs or more people with multiple jobs?

I am not so sure that we have that many fewer people that are not working, but we pretty clearly have more people with multiple jobs. It would appear that someone switching jobs is counted as having multiple jobs. So this area which has peak periods and slow periods then workers doing other jobs depending upon the season are counted as having multiple jobs.

Is there data available on how many people earned what sort of income per job for a year? Ie. how jobs paid less than $5,000, between $5-$10K, and so on. And compare to statewide numbers. That would give an indication of how many locals pick up short term jobs and whether locals actually work more than average, or if locals have more short term jobs than average.


Scott Ford 3 years, 9 months ago

Hi Scott W. – There are about 19,000 people in Routt County that meet the demographic definition of labor force (age 16 and over.) Of that 19,000 about 4,000 did not work during 2011. The group not working fall primarily into the 4 categories I referenced in the column.

One of the challenges with this data is that it does not make a distinction between full and part-time employment. So if a person was working 4 part-time jobs for 10 hours each – it appears in the data as 4 jobs. If a person was working only one job for 40+ hours it would appear as 1 job.

In 2011 there were 13,900 w2 jobs and 6,900 self-employment jobs (Total = 20,800 “jobs”). Obviously there are more “jobs” than people working. In addition, there is likely an overlap between w2 jobs and self-employment. A ratio, however, can be calculated between jobs/work force.

In Routt County this would work out to an average of 1.4 jobs per person in the work force. If we take a look at a metro county like Jefferson the ratio is 1.1 jobs per person in the work force. In Douglas County it is 1.2.

I think it would be safe to assume that one of the factors that contributes to the 1.4 jobs per person in the work force in Routt County is the higher percentage of retail trade, and food service and accommodation jobs in our area. Part-time employment is a part of the nature of the beast in these industry sectors.

The key question we may be able to tease out of the data is how many of just the w2 jobs are likely year-round/full-time. I think a case could be made that this number is in the 60% range or about 8,300 of the 13,900 w2 jobs using the number of weeks worked per year and the number of hours worked per week. Are some of the folks working in these 8,300 jobs also working some part-time employment? It is reasonable to think a portion are. However, if we assume that none of them are this would mean 5,600 w2 jobs are part-time being served by a part-time employment work force of 6,700.

Scott – I think we have most of the pieces of the puzzle to the question of how many part-time jobs exist – however, I would welcome your thinking of how best to fit the pieces together. I do not think we can know and exact number but a percentage range would be nice. I have always liked your logic and would welcome your ideas of putting the pieces together.


Scott Wedel 3 years, 9 months ago

Hi Scott, Is there data on the amount of pay per W2? In particular, is it known how many jobs paid less than $5K or $10K per year? Those can certainly be considered part time jobs or fulltime jobs for a short period of time.. And how that compares to elsewhere would be interesting.

I would expect that a strong correlation would be found between an area's changes in monthly employment and the number of jobs per resident. Routt County gains and losses a significant number of jobs twice a year. And clearly many of the summer jobs are not with the same employer as the winter jobs. So if you were to sum the monthly job increases for the year and compare that to the average number of jobs then you have all you need to explain why different areas have different numbers of jobs per worker.

And you don't need to make assumptions based upon workers in retail and service industries. Seems to me that those industries tend to deal with peak periods by hiring temporary workers. So the above method might be a way to quantify your industry based assumptions.


Kevin Nerney 3 years, 9 months ago

Mr. Ford love your work but you are not playing by the rules. For a list of rules ask Mr. Jones, Mr. Hartless and others. Thanks


Scott Wedel 3 years, 9 months ago

Ah, an example of the benefit of the rules so that a thread may have intelligent on topic comments.


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