Colorado's unemployment rate remained unchanged in April for a third consecutive month at 6.4% as many employers continue to struggle to find workers, the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment reported Friday.
The worker shortage is so acute the department Sunday will begin offering bonuses of up to $1,600 to those collecting unemployment benefits if they take and keep a full-time job for at least two months. The agency said Friday those taking part-time jobs also are eligible for the bonus if they were working part time before the pandemic. Joe Barela, the department's director, said the agency wants small businesses to use the bonuses as a recruiting tool to fill openings.
Some employers blame the worker shortage on a reluctance by those drawing unemployment benefits to seek work, thanks to an extra $300 a week they are receiving through Sept. 6 as part of stimulus legislation passed in March. But Barela and Ryan Gedney, the department's senior economist, disputed that the extra unemployment benefits are keeping potential workers at home.
Barela said child care issues are keeping some unemployed parents at home, while Gedney said young workers may not have achieved full immunity from the COVID-19 virus since they only were allowed to get the vaccine in early April. Barela also noted that restaurant and hotel workers may have found better-paying full-time jobs in other industries and may not want to return to part-time restaurant work.
"We were in a worker shortage before the pandemic hit and it won't go away as we come out of the pandemic," Barela said Friday during a virtual news conference. "Some businesses are offering starting wages of $15 to $20 an hour and signing bonuses of up $1,000. A few sectors are experiencing critical needs (for workers), but it is not in every sector."
Barela said the department has no plans to stop paying the extra unemployment benefits before they expire Sept. 6 as several other states have. The agency will cut off unemployment benefits for 20 weeks to anyone who doesn't show up for a job interview, gives a potential employer false contact information to avoid receiving a job offer or refuses to show up to work once they have been hired.
More than 200,000 Colorado residents remain out of work, down from more than 360,000 a year ago but more than double the nearly 80,000 who were unemployed before the pandemic hit the state. The state's unemployment rate was a record 12.1% in April 2020; it had fallen to 2.8% in the final four months of 2019 before the pandemic hit the state.
Nearly 10,000 people in the state found work last month — more than the 8,900 who returned to the job market — but that wasn't enough to change the unemployment rate.
While the state labor department lists more openings — 256,000 — than the number of people who are out of work, that total is still far below the peak of 346,000 openings in July 2019 and 288,000 in January 2020, just before the pandemic hit the state. Gedney said those numbers show the state's job market is improving but hasn't fully recovered.
Unemployment rates in all Colorado metro areas fell, except for Pueblo, which remained unchanged at 8.6%. The Colorado Springs jobless rate fell from 6.7% in March to 6.5% in April and the Denver area's unemployment rate declined from 6.7% in March to 6.4% in April. Boulder had the lowest jobless rate at 5.3%, while Pueblo had the highest. Among counties, Cheyenne County had the lowest rate at 2.5%, while San Miguel County had the highest at 10%.
Those numbers, which come from a survey of households, show weaker job growth than a separate survey of businesses. That survey shows payroll jobs statewide grew by 17,000 in April to 2.67 million, with more than half of the growth coming from restaurants and hotels, reflecting relaxed COVID-19 pandemic restrictions in many counties as more residents get vaccinated. However, employment in those industries remains down nearly 60,000 jobs from levels before the pandemic hit.
The department revised job gains in March from 6,600 to 7,700. The state has regained nearly 250,000 of the more than 375,000 jobs lost between February and April 2020.
Personal finance website WalletHub ranked Colorado's economy among the slowest to recover, just ahead of Hawaii, with the second-largest increase in the number of people unemployed during the past two years and since the pandemic began. Nebraska and South Dakota have recovered the fastest during both periods.