Unemployment in Moffat County: Now and Moving Forward
Since Mid-March, 40 million people have applied for unemployment nation-wide. Colorado accounts for less than half a million of those cases, and in Moffat County that number is 700.
Jessica Valand, Regional Director for Workforce Centers in a 10-county region that includes Moffat County, says that her data starts with the week ending March 7, and goes through May 9.
Seven hundred people, she noted, make up about 10 percent of Moffat’s labor force, which is 7,100 people. When asked if she knows how many people were approved, Valand said they don’t receive that information. She also shared that they don’t have “continuing claim data at the county level” but that the official unemployment rate for the county from April was 10.5 percent still.
Valand reiterated that the official unemployment rate does not reflect the number of people receiving unemployment insurance, but is found through a county-wide survey. Two questions determine a status of unemployment: 1) Have you looked for work in the last four weeks? And 2) Are you able and available to go to work?
“So 10 percent of Moffat’s workforce answered yes to that question in the month of April,” Valand said.
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She also clarified that the 10 percent unemployment rate reflects people who live in Moffat County, regardless of where they work. There is no data for Craig specifically; county-wide is as small as the data gets.
Valand is based in Steamboat Springs and has been in this position for about four years. Prior to the pandemic, the workforce centers which she oversees were helping to place people at jobs. Now, she says, they offer resume workshops and help people with job search skills virtually, but until employers open back up to hire people, there’s not a lot that they’re able to assist with in terms of finding work.
“We’ve been providing a lot of assistance to help people understand unemployment insurance and file unemployment claims,” Valand said. “That’s most of what we’ve been doing for the last couple of months.”
When asked if she has an opinion about the state reopening, and some restaurants operating at 50 percent capacity, Valand said, “I have no background in public health, but in terms of an employment standpoint there are less jobs, and so to that extent we know that recovery is going to take some time. It’s not going to happen in six months, or even over a period of years. We actually just got back to pre-recession employment inside of the last year as a state, it took us 12 years to recover from that.” (She is referring to the Great Recession that occurred in 2008).
For Moffat County, the largest industry for jobs is in the government. A little over 1,100 citizens fit this category, which includes college employees, local school district employees, federal, state, and local government employees.
“That’s not great news because a lot of what’s happening is huge cuts to tax revenue because of a decrease in spending. That’s happening at the state, local, and municipal level, so having government as your largest industry, I would expect you’re going to see some pretty significant impacts on state employees,” Valand said.
Indeed, the state is anticipating layoffs, as tax revenues have dropped over 15 percent and some places as high as 30 percent.
The next largest industry in Moffat County is health care, where there have been a lot of layoffs in large part because there are no elective surgeries during the pandemic at Yampa Valley Medical Center. Memorial Regional Health, however, is still doing elective medical procedures, resulting in more traffic for MRH overall.
While the impacts of COVID-19 on Moffat County are less, to scale, than the state, Valand pointed out a probable rise in unemployment over the next few years when Moffat County ends extraction.
“Tri-State is still planning to move forward with closing Craig Station (the power plant) by 2030 at the absolute latest, but potentially quicker than that,” Valand said. “It’s still a few years out, but losing the revenue from the plant on top of what’s happening right now is a bit of a double whammy for the county.”
Colorado is closer to reaching the cap on unemployment funding than most probably know.
“Unemployment claims have been coming out of the state’s trust fund, but the trust fund will be bankrupt by the end of June,” she said. “The state will have to borrow money from the federal government with a loan that will have to be repaid. The only way to repay that loan is to increase employer unemployment insurance premiums, so that’s also not good news for employers.”
Despite this, Valand said that “the positive news is the systems to help people plug that hole in their income have been pretty effective.”
She said the real question is “how and when do jobs come back, and is that going to happen before people run out of unemployment insurance benefits?”
Valand encourages people who are looking for work to reach out to workforce centers.
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