Matt Kaufman is a supervisor for the Steamboat Ski & Sport pro shop at the base of Steamboat Ski Area and is one of the many seasonal employees who are supported by ski season tourism in Steamboat Springs.

Photo by John F. Russell

Matt Kaufman is a supervisor for the Steamboat Ski & Sport pro shop at the base of Steamboat Ski Area and is one of the many seasonal employees who are supported by ski season tourism in Steamboat Springs.

October unemployment hits 9.2 percent in Routt County

Jobless rate up from September’s 8.5 percent

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— More than 1,200 jobless Routt County residents could be affected by a loss of federal benefits that expired Tuesday after an extension failed in the U.S. Senate.

Routt County’s unemployment rate was 9.2 percent in October, an increase from the 8.5 percent rate in September and the 6.9 percent rate in October 2009, according to figures recently released by the Colorado Division of Labor and Employment. The county’s 9.2 percent rate represents 1,245 people out of its total October work force of 13,507.

Brian Bradbury, employment specialist at the Steam­boat Springs branch of the Colo­rado Work­force Center, said the 1,245 figure reflects the number of claims for unemployment benefits in Routt County. Brad­bury called Oct­ober’s unemployment increase a “very typical” reflection of off-season job figures in Steamboat’s resort-driven community. But he noted that Routt County has one of the highest unemployment rates in North­west Colo­rado heading into winter.

Bradbury said his office off Anglers Drive has fielded “numerous questions and people calling in” to ask about congressional action about unemployment benefits as the national debate intensified in recent weeks.

Tuesday’s rejection of a proposed extension does not apply to state benefits, which people can get for 26 weeks after losing a job.

“That regular state claim is always there,” Bradbury said. “It’s just the federal emergencies that we’re talking about.”

Federal unemployment benefits are tiered. Brad­bury said the combination of all state and federal programs can provide benefits for as many as 99 weeks after the loss of a job.

People seeking a higher tier of federal benefits must apply this week.

“By Dec. 4, you won’t be able to apply for any type of next level,” Bradbury said.

Efforts to extend federal benefits could continue in the lame-duck Congress. Bill Thoennes, spokesman for the Colorado Department of Labor and Em­­ployment, said those without work should continue to file claims for benefits.

“Even if you’re losing your benefits, it’s a good idea to continue your claim by continuing to call in or to go online. … Just keep reporting,” he said. “Then, if by any chance a law passes and (federal benefits) can continue, it will be easier to reactivate that claim.”

Thoennes said the department’s website, www.colorado.gov/cdle, is the best venue for filing new claims. He said those with questions can call 1-800-388-5515, but he warned that those lines are seeing increasingly heavy use.

“Our phone lines have become so jammed, in all likelihood, they’ll get a busy signal for quite a while,” he said. “I know that must be very enraging to keep getting a busy signal, hour after hour, day after day.”

Bradbury’s office, in the Sundance at Fish Creek plaza, offers a respite from long phone delays every Wednesday, including today.

He said the office provides a hot line to the state department from 9 to 11:30 a.m. and 1 to 3:30 p.m. every Wednesday, drastically reducing hold times for people with questions or seeking to file claims.

The hot line service is first-come, first-served, he said.

Ski area still hiring

Meanwhile, one of the county’s largest employers still has a few open positions for winter.

Trish Sullivan, vice president of human resources for Steam­boat Ski and Resort Corp., said about 15 open positions remain at Steamboat Ski Area, in a variety of positions and hours. Sullivan said people can see job listings and apply at http://steamboat.com/jobs, or visit Ski Corp.’s human resources office in the gondola building.

The ski area will peak at about 1,800 employees this season, a staffing on par with recent years.

“We had a lot of applicants,” she said. “We did our annual recruitment trip to Yellowstone (National Park), but as with last year, we are seeing a lot of applicants from the local area.”

That local interest is reflected in a decrease of foreign workers this winter. Sullivan said the ski area will have 50 to 60 foreign workers this winter, down from about 75 a year ago.

Those workers primarily are in the United States with a temporary H-2B visa, she said. There are a few workers on J-1 student visas and none using the Q visa cultural exchange program.

— To reach Mike Lawrence, call 871-4233 or e-mail mlawrence@steamboatpilot.com

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