Business closures ordered to slow the spread of the coronavirus pandemic sent Colorado's unemployment rate to a record 11.3% in April, the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment reported Friday.
The increase came as more than 180,000 Colorado residents lost jobs from March to April, causing the jobless rate to more than double from 5.1% in March. The previous record unemployment rate in records that start in 1976 of 8.9% was set in September through December of 2010 during the aftermath of the Great Recession. The Colorado unemployment rate was lower than the nation's 14.7% rate and lower than 33 other states.
"This is the most telling indicator of COVID-19's impact on the economy. We went from record low unemployment to a record high in two months. The swiftness with which COVID-19 has impacted the country is staggering," Cher Roybal Haavid, the department's deputy director, said during a video conference Friday.
The numbers were even worse in the Colorado Springs area, where the unemployment rate nearly doubled from 6.2% in March to a record 12.3% in April, with more than 20,000 losing jobs. The Colorado Springs rate was the second-highest among Colorado's metro areas after Grand Junction's 12.6% rate, though every Colorado metro area except for Boulder and Greeley had an April jobless rate of more than 10%. Pitkin County, which includes Aspen, had the state's highest jobless rate at 23.1% and four other counties that include resort areas had rates above 20%.
"I absolutely expect the May (unemployment) rate to be even higher" since more than 175,000 first-time unemployment insurance claims have been filed since the period covered by the April data, said Tatiana Bailey, director of the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs Economic Forum. The May unemployment rate for Colorado will be released June 19. "This is especially true because we are seeing job losses spill over from the hospitality industry into other industries."
The unemployment rate, which comes from a survey of households, doesn't tell the whole story — another 10% of workers are employed part time even though they want to work full time, said Ryan Gedney, the department's senior economist. The data included one hopeful sign — 80% of the layoffs were temporary, meaning that employers told the state they expected to recall those workers at some point.
A separate survey of employers showed 323,500 fewer Colorado residents were employed in April compared with a month earlier. The job losses in March and April have erased the past 5½ years of job growth in Colorado. Nearly half of the job losses came in the hotel and restaurant industries with more than 35,000 job losses each reported in the retail and health care industries (mostly in dental, optical and physician offices).
Job losses counted by the employer survey could be higher because some persons counted as unemployed in the household survey held multiple part time jobs and lost them amid the business closures.
In the Colorado Springs area, payrolls declined 9.2%, or nearly twice the rate during the Great Recession, from a year earlier to 270,200. That means the 27,200 job losses from a year earlier wiped out the past five years of job growth. The hotel and restaurant industry employment were hit hardest, accounting for nearly three-fourths of job losses, followed by the health care industry.