More jobs than workers leaves gaps in Garfield County labor market
High cost of living, lack of child care options, aging workforce contribute to Garfield County’s reduced labor pool
Garfield County’s unemployment rate is trending below both the state and national average, because, in part, there are more jobs available than workers, a Colorado Department of Labor and Employment spokesperson said.
At about 4.6% in August, Garfield County’s unemployment rate was more than 1% lower than Colorado’s rate of 5.9% and below the national average of 5.2%, CDLE Regional Business Services Coordinator Carolyn Tucker said. While Garfield County’s unemployment dropped from an average rate of 6.9% in 2020, it is still soaring above pre-COVID-19 rates in 2019, which averaged about 2.6%.
“Our unemployment rates trend a little lower than our nearby mountain neighbors, because we have a little more diversified economy,” Tucker said. “We have tourism, but we also have a lot of professional services, such as real estate, banking, retail, transportation and construction services.”
What Garfield County doesn’t have is a labor pool large enough to meet the area’s growing demands, and the pandemic further reduced the number of workers in that pool.
“I know a lot of people would blame our labor shortages on unemployment payouts,” Tucker said. “But the federal government’s additional unemployment benefits ended Sept. 4, and we still have a labor shortage.”
A high cost of living and lack of child care are key factors to the labor shortage, she said, but the age of Garfield County’s workforce also played a role.
“We have an aging workforce, and many of those workers decided the pandemic and immediately following was time to retire,” Tucker said. “With limited child care options, we’re also seeing many women choose not to come back to work so they can stay home with their kids.”
As the pandemic continues to play out across the country, several workers have changed careers or left the workforce to better care for their at-risk elderly family members.
“It’s really a matter of we have more jobs open than people to work them,” Tucker said. “And I know a lot of people think this has everything to do with the pandemic, but this goes as far back as 2018-19.”
Despite challenges, Garfield County’s labor market has experienced significant growth.
From 2015-20, these four labor markets saw growth of more than 5%:
- Health care, 18%
- Health care support, 13%
- Business and financial operations, 10%
- Building and grounds maintenance, 6%
Many people view Glenwood Springs as the county’s tourism hot spot, but when it comes to employees, local governments rank first.
Glenwood Springs largest labor markets are listed below:
- Retail trade
- Health care
- Accommodations and food service
Another challenge for employers is the need for specialized workers, Tucker said.
“There are some people who are scraping by, but there are others who are doing really well,” she said. “To do well in this market, you have to stay on top of those skill trends, especially when it comes to new technology.”
The Glenwood Springs Workforce Center, 401 23rd St. Suite No. 300, provides workers in Garfield and Pitkin counties with opportunities for “re-skilling and up-skilling,” Tucker said.
The center is open for walk-ins Tuesdays and Thursdays, but they provide virtual job services Mondays through Fridays.
In addition to helping employees, Tucker said the center provides a number of services to employers as well, including wage analysis, employee retention and closing skill gaps.
Forecasting the local labor market in the next few months, Tucker said the unemployment rate is unlikely to spike without outside factors such as a natural disaster or pandemic-related closures.
“We could still see some volatility in the energy sector, but the accommodations and food service sector has not seen a decrease in job numbers; I don’t anticipate it will in six months,” Tucker said. “I think we could see our job sector continue to grow through winter, if only incrementally.”
Reporter Ike Fredregill can be reached at 970-384-9154 or by email at email@example.com.
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