Colorado Springs job growth falls to 3 1/2-year low

A rainbow hangs over downtown Colorado Springs during a recent evening rainshower Friday, June 19, 2015. Photo by Mark Reis, The Gazette

By: Wayne Heilman
February 22, 2018

Job growth in El Paso County slowed in the third quarter of 2017 to its lowest rate in 3½ years amid a chronic labor shortage, say data released Wednesday by the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment.

The 1.9 percent increase from the third quarter of 2016 is the lowest growth rate since the 1.6 percent rate in the first quarter of 2014. The county’s job growth has slowed every quarter but one since peaking at 3.5 percent during the final quarter of 2015.

The slowing growth came as the unemployment rate in the Colorado Springs area, which includes El Paso and Teller counties, hovered between 2.7 percent and 2.9 percent during the July-to-September quarter. The jobless rate climbed to 3.6 percent in December, as thousands of residents entered or returned to the local job market. During the three-month period, the number of job openings advertised by the Pikes Peak Workforce Center exceeded the number looking for work by more than 3,000. Since then, the number of unemployed has grown to exceed the number of openings.

Tatiana Bailey, director of the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs Economic Forum, said slowing job growth is a product of lack of labor supply, especially applicants with the skills needed by local employers.

More than half of the 5,069 jobs added in the 12 months that ended Sept. 30 were generated by the construction and tourism industries, which expanded by 4.2 percent and 8.3 percent, respectively. Job growth slowed in the health care industry to 2.4 percent, mostly because the department shifted hundreds of home health care workers from the health care and social assistance category to the other services category. The retail and information industries shed 437 and 241 jobs, respectively, for the third consecutive quarter in which employment has declined in both industries.

As job growth slowed, so did wages. The county’s average weekly wage edged up just 1.5 percent from a year earlier to $948 in the third quarter. Wages in El Paso County grew 2.4 percent in the second quarter and 8.1 percent in the first quarter. Wage growth slowed in the third quarter because average wages fell in 12 industry categories that include more than two-thirds of the county’s workforce, but they rose enough in seven others to more than offset the declines.

Bailey called the wage number “underwhelming, especially since the wage growth is much smaller than the national average of 2.5 percent. Without wage growth, it is difficult to attract labor and talent to this area.”

The wage and job growth numbers are compiled from unemployment insurance reports that most employers must file every three months and are a more accurate measure of the county’s job market than monthly data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, which is based on surveys of employers.

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