Moffat County unemployment hovering at 8 percent

At a glance

• Unemployment in Moffat County at 8.1 percent in August, down from 8.6 percent in July.

• Colorado’s un-seasonally adjusted unemployment rate down slightly to 8 percent from 8.1 percent in July.

• City of Craig sales tax revenues in July were down 10.4 percent, or $31,403 from 2009.

• Moffat County sales tax revenues in July were 14.4 percent, or $28,829 below budget.

• National consumer spending dipped to about $55 per day in late September, down from $72 per day in late July.

Craig resident Lucas Hartlung has been looking for a job for about nine months.

“Everything has gone down — the economy is bad,” said Hartlung, 25, during a Monday visit to the Colorado Workforce Center of Craig. “It’s hard times for everybody.”

Hartlung was attending college at IntelliTec College in Grand Junction for a degree as an automotive technician, but was forced to move back to Craig.

In Grand Junction, Hartlung was making ends meet as a handyman, but now he is looking for “anything that helps,” he said.

Hartlung said the economy has hit the automotive industry hard, and companies can’t afford to hire new employees.

Now, he has turned his job hunt to the local coal mines, oil fields or “anything that makes decent money.”

“A lot of people got laid off,” he said of the recession. “Even people that I have known that have had jobs for years have gotten laid off or had to take a pay cut, or something.”

Hartlung is part of the 8.1 percent of Moffat County residents counted as unemployed in August by the Colorado Department of Labor and Em-

ployment.

August unemployment in the county was down from 8.6 percent in July and 8.7 percent in June and May, according to the department.

County unemployment figures have shown a slight downward trend since peaking in March at 9.4 percent, the highest mark the county had seen since 1993.

Since March, 152 fewer residents have been counted as unemployed, while 435 residents have left the workforce, according to statistics.

Unemployment in Routt County dropped to 8.3 percent in August from July’s 8.5 percent, with 1,201 residents being counted as unemployed.

In Rio Blanco County, unemployment dropped from 6 percent in July to 5.5 percent in August with 249 residents being counted as unemployed.

At the state level, Colorado’s non-seasonally adjusted unemployment rate dropped slightly from 8.1 percent in July to 8 percent in August. According to the department, 215,031 Coloradoans were out of work last month.

The August unemployment rate decreased in 43 of Colorado’s 64 counties, increased in nine and was unchanged in 12, according to a department of labor news release.

Regional economist Scott Ford said there was little good news to be found in the local drop in unemployment.

“We are not done yet, and that is what is scary,” he said of the recession.

Ford said in a stable economy, the balance between the number of jobs and the workforce would be equal.

Moffat County had been trending to that balance, but mid-summer job creation stalled, and in August, the scale “tipped the wrong way,” he said.

“It means that the stress in both counties due to unemployment is continuing,” Ford said. “It is not getting better.”

Moreover, Ford said Moffat County is mirroring a national trend of poor job creation.

Consumer spending, another indicator of economic activity, has also dipped. According to Gallup International’s 14-day rolling average, national consumer spending dropped to about $55 per day in late September. In late July, daily consumer spending reached $72, a recent high.

Ford said the dip in consumer spending is no longer indicative of a lack of consumer confidence in the economy, but a change in spending habits.

“They just don’t have the access to money,” he said.

Ford said consumers’ attitudes have become “make do or do without,” a shift that could last for years or decades.

Sales tax revenue, a figure that indicates local consumer spending, is down in both Moffat County and Craig, according to figures.

In July, Craig was down 10.4 percent, or $31,403, in sales tax revenue from 2009.

Because the city lowered it budget for 2010, however, the city exceeded budgeted sales tax collections by $1,593 in July.

For the year, Craig is .5 percent, or $9,077, above budget on sales tax collection.

Moffat County has also seen a dip in sales tax collections from 2009.

In July, the county was 14.4 percent, or $28,829, below budget for sales tax.

On the year, the county has collected 4.6 percent, or $112,265, less than budgeted.

Ford said the local economy is experiencing “long-term stress” from unemployment and a lack of business revenues.

“This economy is not recovering,” he said. “Even though I think that the powers that be have said, ‘Hey, guess what? The recession ended two quarters ago.’ It likely did, but the recovery is so anemic.”

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