The Colorado Springs-area job market was the tightest since at least 1990 as the unemployment rate fell to 2.7 percent, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported Wednesday.
The March rate was down sharply from 3.4 percent in February and 3.6 percent in March 2016, and is the lowest in the federal agency's records for the Springs area that start in 1990. The previous lowest rate was 2.8 percent in December 2000, just before the technology industry collapse triggered a major downturn.
The area's jobless rate declined despite a big influx of workers into the job market - the labor force has grown by nearly 7,000 since December, while the number of residents holding jobs has increased by nearly 9,000 during the same period and the number of people looking for work has declined by more than 1,800 to 8,864. That is the fewest number of unemployed workers since February 2001 - the labor force has grown by more than 50,000 during the 16-year period.
"This is pretty amazing," said Tatiana Bailey, director of the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs Economic Forum. "Finally, we are seeing people coming back into the labor force and the economy is absorbing them. Right now, we have significantly more demand for labor than supply. The challenge is whether we can meet that demand. We have been in a labor shortage for a while with the demand for and supply of labor roughly equal - that is a tight job market. When you see demand exceeding supply by such a large margin, that is a very tight labor market."
The unemployment rate is based on a survey of households; another survey of employers showed job growth during the previous 12 months slowing to 1.9 percent from 2.5 percent. Those numbers are subject to large annual revisions when information from quarterly unemployment insurance reports from employers is incorporated into the data. That survey showed that nearly half of the 6,700 jobs added between March 2016 and March 2017 came from the health-care and retail industries with additional growth in the local government and construction sectors.
The sharp drop in the area's unemployment came as Colorado's jobless rate fell to the lowest level in the 41 years the Bureau of Labor Statistics has calculated state rates - 2.6 percent - which also was the lowest rate for any state in March. Jobless rates also fell sharply in Colorado's six other metropolitan areas with Boulder and Fort Collins both declining to 1.9 percent and Grand Junction and Pueblo dropping to 3.4 percent and 3.5 percent, respectively. Five Colorado metro areas were among the 23 nationwide with unemployment rates of less than 3 percent.
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