The booming Colorado Springs area job market set another milestone in April with a 2.5 percent unemployment rate, the lowest recorded by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics in records beginning in 1990.
The April jobless rate is down from 2.7 percent in March and 4.1 percent in April 2016. The rate is the lowest in the bureau's records dating to 1990, but earlier records from the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment using different calculations show the lowest unemployment rate between 1970 and 1990 was 3 percent in May 1971. The 8,481 area residents who said they were looking for work in April was the fewest since February 2001; the local job market has expanded by nearly 53,000 people since then.
Colorado Springs was tied for the 14th lowest unemployment rate with five other cities while Fort Collins, Boulder, Greeley and Denver led the list with jobless rates of 1.8 percent, 1.9 percent, 2 percent and 2.1 percent, respectively. Colorado had the nation's lowest jobless rate in both March and April at 2.6 percent and 2.3 percent, respectively.
"It doesn't get much better than this," Colorado Springs Mayor John Suthers said. "Considering Colorado Springs has a lot of soldiers and their spouses coming and going, I would expect that a 2.5 percent unemployment rate is close to full employment. I am worried about a labor shortage. The construction industry is already experiencing a shortage and we have more than 1,000 openings for registered nurses locally and that is before Children's Hospital and the expansions of Memorial Hospital North and St. Francis Medical Center are open" in 2018 and 2019.
The number of openings listed by local employers with the Pikes Peak Workforce Center exceeded the number of people looking for work by nearly 4,400 with 1,100 openings for registered nurses and more than 700 each for customer service representatives and software engineers. The center reports average job posting takes more than a month to fill.
The falling unemployment rate - the rate has declined every month since June except January and February - comes amid slowing job growth. Local payroll growth slowed in April to 1.8 percent, compared with April 2016, the slowest rate since March 2014 and a likely sign that a labor shortage is developing. The payroll numbers are calculated from a survey of employers, while the unemployment rate comes from a separate survey of households. Nearly 60 percent of the 4,700 jobs added during the 12 months ended in April were in the health care or retail industries.
"We will find people to fill these jobs, but it will likely come from in-migration. We won't know our population growth numbers from the Census Bureau until July, but I believe those numbers will show significant growth in 2016 and I expect that will continue this year," Suthers said.
Jeff Johnson, vice president of human resources for UCHealth Memorial Hospital, said the two-hospital system has 300 open positions, including 135 nurses. To fill those openings, Memorial has worked with both Pikes Peak Community College and the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs to increase the number of nursing graduates and expanded its out-of-state recruiting efforts, especially in Midwestern states, he said.
"We are trying to keep ahead of the curve. We are opening a new medical-surgical unit and that makes the issue even more challenging," Johnson said. "We also are trying to prepare for the openings of Children's and the expansions of Memorial North and St. Francis. It will continue to be a challenge."
Sheri Pouyer, talent acquisition manager for Penrose-St. Francis Health Services, which operates Penrose Hospital and St. Francis Medical Center has 233 openings, about half of which are for nurses. The hospital giant relies on employee referrals and out-of-state recruitment to fill those openings, which usually takes about 40 days.
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