The local labor market is on the mend. According to the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment, the Moffat County unemployment rate in June was 6.7 percent. This is down from the rate of 7.9 percent in June 2012. Throughout the past year, the number of local jobs grew by 54, while the labor force shrunk by 48. The seasonally adjusted unemployment rate has been on the decline since January 2011. However, the current rate still is well above the rate of 2.2 percent experienced in October 2007.
Thus, the latest data indicates that the labor market continues gradually to recover from the Great Recession. However, there is considerable ground to cover before we return to anything resembling the 2007-08 employment peak. In 2008, there were 8,500 jobs in Moffat County. By 2011, the local economy had shed 645 jobs. Between 2011 and 2013, 69 returned to the county. When we dig inside the numbers, it is clear that the jobs that have come back since 2009 are different from those that were lost. This shift in the job mix has resulted in a very subtle — but important — transformation of the Yampa Valley labor market.
The Colorado Department of Labor and Employment’s Quarterly Census of Employment and Wages tracks monthly jobs by industry at the county-level. According to the most recent employment census, which contains data through the end of 2012, it reveals that some industries have lost jobs since 2008 and some have gained. For example, the number of jobs related to fishing and hunting dropped by 27 (55 percent). Similarly, the number of construction jobs in Moffat County declined by 96 (27 percent) between 2008 and 2012. Retail trade jobs declined by 103 (13 percent). Accommodations and food services jobs also fell by 35 (7 percent) during this period. In contrast to the job losses in these industries, the picture is different for jobs related to professional services, healthcare, manufacturing and public administration. The combined number of jobs in these industries grew by 72 (5 percent) between 2008 and 2012.
This indicates that the local job market marginally has shifted toward locally focused, permanent roles and away from economically driven. This type of transformation makes sense. In the wake of the recession, we would expect the labor market to move toward jobs that are locally focused and away from those that require a continuous stream of visitors or constant economic growth in order to sustain. The transformation in the composition of jobs since the Great Recession tells us that the local job market likely is to be more resilient in the face of the next economic downturn.
Of course, economically driven jobs still are critical to our economy and will be welcomed enthusiastically when they return in full force. However, we’ll need to see an increase in economic activity and a surge in local construction for these jobs to return to their 2007 and 2008 peak levels. In the meantime, the job market will continue its gradual recovery and its ongoing transformation toward a more recession-proof jobs mix.
Brandon Owens is an independent contractor for Yampa Valley Data Partners, a regional nonprofit organization serving Moffat and Routt counties. YVDP’s mission is to strengthen our communities through collaborative partnerships and providing relevant, timely, accessible data to decision makers. Visit YVDP’s website at www.yampavalleypartners.com.