Springs jobless rate falls to lowest level in more than 2 years

January 4, 2012

The Colorado Springs area unemployment rate fell in November to its lowest level in more than two years as residents continued to pour into the local job market, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported Wednesday.

The area's jobless rate fell to 9 percent in November from a revised 9.1 percent in October, matching September 2009 as the lowest rate in the past 26 months. The agency reported more than 1,600 residents entered the job market during November, while the number working increased by more than 2,000. That reduced the number of unemployed by nearly 400 to the lowest level since March 2009.

Although the local rate has declined from a record 10 percent in February, the local economy is recovering at a snail's pace. Nearly 28,000 residents remain out of work – more than twice the number who were unemployed before the recession began.

Tom Binnings, a senior partner in Summit Economics, a Springs economic research and consulting firm, said slow improvement is as good as we can expect in the near future.

'What we're experiencing right now is what I would consider the best case scenario," Binnings said. "I would love to be proved wrong and have things improving dramatically. We're much more concerned on the downside - things could deteriorate quickly."

Still, he said, barring large cutbacks in defense spending, the Springs is poised to continue this modest recovery, spurred on by big nonresidential construction projects at Fort Carson, the Southern Delivery System and other work such as a new Wal-Mart data center.

Fred Crowley, senior economist with the Southern Colorado Economic Forum, agreed that the Springs is likely to see continued slow improvement in the coming months. The problem, he said, is that the lack of manufacturing jobs and primary employers is likely to cause the unemployment rate to plateau sooner than the community would like.

"The new norm may no longer be 4.5 percent unemployment, the new norm may be 5.5 or 6 percent because we lack the drivers to get beyond that," Crowley said.

One potential bright spot for Crowley could be oil and gas development in eastern Colorado. That would bring not only drilling jobs, he said, but potentially support and service jobs to supply the industry.

"These drilling rigs, they require a lot of resources," he said. "I know everyone is concerned about environmental impact, but I'm sure there's a happy medium that works for most people."

At the Pikes Peak Workforce Center, spokeswoman Jeanne Cotter said the center is seeing a lot of recent hiring by call centers, notably ACS, a few high-tech companies and some seasonal jobs, such as landscaping. Sales and banking are also strong areas for hiring, Cotter said. On the other side of the ledger, she said, the workforce center is seeing a broad age range of job seekers and both the newly unemployed and those that have been out of work for some time are staying in the hunt. 

The improvement in the unemployment rate hasn't been reflected in local payrolls, which continued to decline for an eighth consecutive month compared with the same month a year earlier. The 244,300 on local payrolls in November was down 0.9 percent from November 2010. That's because losses in the construction, manufacturing, retailing and service sectors more than offset gains in financial services, health care and education.

Payroll numbers come from a survey of employers, while the unemployment rate is calculated from a survey of households, so the two often don't line up.

Unemployment rates fell in November in all of Colorado's metropolitan areas, with Boulder reporting the lowest rate at 6.2 percent and Pueblo reporting the highest at 10 percent. Colorado's jobless rate fell in November to 8 percent, the lowest since March 2009.

Unemployment rates declined in November in all but 21 of the nation's 372 metropolitan areas, the Bureau of Labor Statistics said.

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