Thursday, January 24, 2013

Brief Garfield County Update

As the state and national economies continue a steady recovery, Garfield County remains, for the most part, trapped in a cycle of continuing job losses. In the past two years, several months did show year-to-year employment expansion, but according to recently released third-quarter jobs figures, the county seems unable to erupt into full-blow job growth. Although the change in jobs provides the best signal of economic health or malaise, other indicators are showing improvement. Here’s a short rundown of the county’s current economic status:

• All three months in third quarter 2012 showed year-to-year declines. As of September 2012, Garfield County employment was down almost 50 positions from the previous year—a decline of 1.7 percent. While the current labor market contraction is not particularly large, it does signal an ailing economy.

• Last quarter, losses in the public sector accounted for the bulk of employment decline. This quarter, job hits in leisure/hospitality services, wholesale trade and government all contributed to the drag on employment totals.

• Fortunately, gains in construction employment and retail trade offset part of the aforementioned losses.

• Garfield County’s jobless rate surged in 2011, but since that point, unemployment has generally trended down. In November 2012, the county’s unemployment rate measured 9.9 percent. That’s certainly higher than both state and national rates (5.2 and 7.7 percent respectively). However, remember that Garfield County’s jobless rate is perennially higher than average due to the seasonality of many of its jobs. In other words, many workers experience a spell of unemployment every year.

• Initial claims for unemployment insurance have settled back into the county’s normal seasonal pattern and don’t seem to be reflecting any cyclical effects.

• As in most rural counties, the construction industry has proved slow to recover. Home permits for the first 10 months of 2012 are down almost 60 percent from the previous year. Moreover, this decline marks the fifth year of declining home permits. Overall, permit values are down almost 80 percent. So, if permitting is down, why is the construction industry showing a strong employment increase? Public projects (such as highways, etc.) are typically not permitted and therefore not included in the authorized construction values.

• The best economic news? For most of the past two and one-half years, Garfield County’s gross taxable sales have shown consistent gains. Although third quarter sales data are not yet available, they will likely follow the trend. Improving sales should eventually help buoy up employment levels.