The Colorado Springs area has recovered the jobs it lost during the COVID-19 pandemic, becoming the state's first metro to reach that milestone, the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment reported Friday.
Colorado Springs payrolls in October totaled 305,500, or 900 more people than held such jobs in February 2020, before the pandemic triggered a statewide stay-at-home order that resulted in widespread job losses. Colorado still remains 62,700 jobs short of reaching the 2.82 million employed in February 2020. The Denver area remains 30,000 jobs below its pre-pandemic payroll level.
"Colorado Springs has been pulling away from the rest of the state in terms of the rate of job growth since early this year," said Ryan Gedney, the department's senior economist. "I expect that the state and the Denver area, given the current trends, to reach February 2020 payroll employment levels in early 2022."
The local economy reached the milestone even as employers say they can't fill job openings, especially in the restaurant, retail and other industries with the lowest wages. All but a handful of industries — hotels, restaurants and other services that includes call centers — employed more people in October than in February 2020. All three industries pay significantly less than El Paso County's average wage.
The job growth numbers were included in data released Friday that also showed Colorado's unemployment rate fell to 5.4% in October from 5.6% in October, the fourth consecutive monthly drop. Colorado's unemployment rate was 6.9% in October 2020 and was just 2.5% two years ago, before the pandemic.
The unemployment rate comes from a survey of households, while the payroll numbers come from a survey of employers.
The jobless rate in the Colorado Springs area fell to 4.6% in October from 4.9% in September; it's the lowest rate since February 2020. The Denver area's unemployment rate fell to 4.6% from 4.8%. The Boulder area had the lowest jobless rate among the state's seven metro areas at 3.5% while Pueblo had the highest at 6.8%.
"For Colorado Springs to exceed pre-pandemic employment levels and the unemployment rate approaching levels before the pandemic, that is incredible given the level of shock to the economy," said Tatiana Bailey, director of the University of Colorado Colorado Springs Economic Forum. "Although this is really good, these numbers would be even higher without the pandemic."
The number of people looking for work in Colorado has declined by nearly 48,000 since December, with more than half of the drop coming in the past three months. However, the 171,000 people who are looking for work is still 83,000 more than the total in February 2020.
The employer survey shows the state added 10,600 payroll jobs in October and nearly 130,000 so far this year. About half of the state's payroll employment growth so far this year — 65,400 jobs — has come in the hotel and restaurant industries, which were hit hardest by the pandemic. The arts, entertainment and recreation sector has added 17,100 so far this year, followed by the professional and technical services sector, which has added 15,200 jobs in the first 10 months of the year.