Steamboat Springs 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 firstname.lastname@example.org.