Moffat County unemployment hits 10.6 percent

Area economist optimistic county headed toward job balance

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Craig resident Justin Meisner has been looking for steady work for the last six months.

Several years ago, he wound up on the wrong side of the law and spent some time in prison. As he continues his daily job hunt, he has found his background hurts his employment chances despite his shift in attitude.

“I’m not against the law, I’m with it now,” he said.

The 28-year-old Meisner said he is having a hard time paying the bills, but hasn’t taken up unemployment benefits or food stamps. Rather, he is trying to make it on his own.

“It’s rough, but I think I’ll make it through,” he said.

He is able to get by on temporary work he found at Tri-State Generation & Transmission’s Craig Station.

“There’s not that much work up here and when it comes, it is only for a short time,” he said. “I need a full-time (job). The economy needs to get better, too.”

But, Meisner said he is becoming more optimistic about the state of the local economy and the number of jobs available.

“There have been more job openings,” he said Monday looking at a list of posted jobs at the Colorado Workforce Center’s Craig branch.

According to statistics, Moffat County had a 10.6-percent unemployment rate in February, representing more than 900 people looking for work in the area, according the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Unemployment rates in the county hovered around 8.5 percent for several months last summer, but in December 2010, the number of people looking for work jumped.

January’s unemployment rate of 11 percent was the highest in the county since at least 1990.

However, regional economist Scott Ford said despite the alarmingly high unemployment percentage, Moffat County’s economy is headed in the right direction.

Ford said unemployment percentages calculated by the state don’t take into account seasonal changes or give a “long-term, stable picture of what is happening.”

“On the month-to-month level, because this number is so subject to swings, small changes can make big differences,” he said.

Ford has compiled an economic stress indicator for Yampa Valley Partners, which calculates the strain placed on local economies due to unemployment by looking at the change in the size of workforce and number of available jobs compared to the same time last year.

That indicator is headed in the right direction for both Moffat and Routt counties, he said.

“What we are seeing is that the workforce is getting maybe a wee bit smaller because maybe people are moving out of the area,” he said. “And, the number of jobs are growing and we’re getting closer and closer to that equilibrium. Both counties are moving in the right direction.”

However, times are still tough, he added.

“This is stressful right now, people have no jobs, but eventually this begins to over time work itself out,” he said. “We may emerge a smaller economy.”

There are two other factors at play in the current local unemployment numbers — the extension of unemployment benefits and a shift in the Northwest Colorado economy as a whole, he said.

About half of Moffat County’s workforce doesn’t work inside the county, Ford said. That percentage works in other counties like Carbon County, Wyo., and Rio Blanco County, but the “lion’s share” of work is in Routt County.

The winding down of the tourism season in Routt County could be playing a part in the number of unemployment claims in Moffat County, Ford said.

“When a Moffat County resident who was working for an employer based in Routt County becomes unemployed and subsequently files for unemployment benefits in Moffat County … the claim itself appears in the Moffat County unemployment claim numbers,” Ford said in an email. “This results often in Moffat County’s unemployment percentage rate being overstated from what the reality is.”

Ford said there is also an economic theory that if the government keeps extending unemployment benefits, it will extend the problem resulting in higher unemployment percentages.

“You reach a point where you say, ‘I’ll take anything,’” Ford said. “Well, if the benefits keep getting continued, your motivation to go find something brand new is a wee bit limited. But, that is not to say folks don’t say, ‘I’m going to cowboy up and find the right job.’”

There are also short-term benefits that come from unemployment compensation because it “kind of keeps the consumers in the game,” Ford said.

“Eventually people run out of money and they stop spending,” he said. “If you have an economy that needs consumer spending, you worsen the situation by having this group stop.”

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