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FILE - This April 22, 2014, file photo shows an employment application form on a table during a job fair at Columbia-Greene Community College in Hudson, N.Y. (AP Photo/Mike Groll, File)

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The Colorado Springs area unemployment rate climbed for a fourth consecutive month in December to 3.6 percent, the highest since October 2016, as nearly 1,900 people returned to or joined the labor force, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported Tuesday.

The December jobless rate rose from 3.5 percent in November and was up from 3.2 percent in December 2016 in the biggest year-to-year increase in unemployment since January 2011. Despite increases in the final four months of the year, the 3 percent average unemployment rate for 2017 was the lowest since averaging 2.9 percent in 2000.

Unemployment has been rising in the Springs area since hitting 2.5 percent in April, the lowest recorded rate since 1970, mostly due to thousands of residents entering or returning to the job market. The area's labor force grew by more than 14,000 - 4.3 percent - during 2017 with more than 85 percent finding work.

"Employment growth has been slowing as a result of the lack of available labor, so somewhat higher unemployment is a positive because it results from expansion of the labor force," said Tom Binnings, a senior partner in Summit Economic LLC, a local economic research and consulting firm.

Unemployment rates rose from November to December in three of the state's six other metropolitan areas - Boulder, Grand Junction and Pueblo - while remaining unchanged in Denver, Fort Collins and Greeley grew as the labor force expanded in all six areas. Colorado's jobless rate also increased in December for a fourth consecutive month to 3.1 percent as the state's labor force expanded by nearly 15,000 from November. Colorado's labor force has grown by nearly 138,000, or 4.7 percent, since December 2016.

The agency's other job data, which measures local payrolls through a survey of employers (the unemployment rate is calculated from a survey of households), reflected continued sluggish growth in December at 1.2 percent from December 2016. More than 60 percent of that growth came from health care and construction industries, which added 1,600 and 1,200 jobs, respectively, during 2017.

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