Unemployment rate trickles down in Garfield County

Ike Fredregill
Post Independent
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Job layoff notice and application for unemployment insurance benefits paperwork. Concept of Covid-19 coronavirus and stay at home order impact on economy

Garfield County’s hospitality and leisure businesses were hit hard by unemployment rates during the pandemic, but overall, unemployment is on the decline, a Colorado Department of Labor and Employment (CDLE) spokesperson said.

“We historically see an uptick of unemployment rates in (the hospitality and leisure sector) during April and May,” said Jessica Valand, the CDLE Northwest Workforce Area director. “But not like this.” 

In the Northwest Workforce Area, which includes Garfield County, the hospitality industries account for about 45% of unemployment insurance claims, Valand explained.

Overall, the county’s unemployment rates were down to 9.7% in June from 10% in May and 13.7% in April, she added.

“Our unemployment rate has been historically low for the last several years,” Valand said. “So, I anticipate we will continue to see higher than previous unemployment rates going into the winter.”

In June 2019, Garfield County’s unemployment rate was 2.7% and July 2019’s rate was 2.3%; whereas, the national average around the same time was 3.7%.

Unemployment percentages are measured by way of a monthly Bureau of Labor Statistic’s survey, dubbed the Current Population Survey, which includes about 60,000 households nationwide.

Driven by the pandemic, Garfield County’s unemployment rates could remain in flux for months to come. 

“Tourism has been hit heavy by COVID-19,” Valand said. “And a lot of Garfield County residents work in Pitkin County, where tourism is a much bigger driver.” 

A person’s unemployment is attributed to the county of residence, not their place of employment, she said. 

“We don’t know what’s going to happen this winter season,” Valand said. “But it’s reasonable to guess that resorts might have less capacity, which could make for less jobs.” 

Of Garfield County’s approximately 32,000 strong workforce, about 36 percent work in the hospitality and leisure sector, according to CDLE data.

During the week of July 18, the CDLE’s most recent data, about 1,700 Garfield County residents applied for unemployment insurance, Valand said. 

As part of the CARES ACT, the Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation program provided people claiming various forms of unemployment compensation an additional $600 per week to help with lack of income as a result of COVID-19.

The extra money, however, made low-wage workers, many of whom are employed in the hospitality and leisure industry, less likely to return to work as pandemic restrictions lifted, Valand said.

When the program closes July 31, she said the county’s unemployment rate drop again.

“We have a lot of employers with increased demand for workers, such as construction and trades,” Valand said. “Outdoor recreation industries have done very well, too, and there is a real demand for people to work in that sector.”

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