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Colorado's unemployment rate falls to 4.8% in December amid strong job gains

State has gained back more than 89% of jobs lost at start of pandemic
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Posted at 1:27 PM, Jan 21, 2022
and last updated 2022-01-21 23:34:03-05

DENVER – Colorado’s unemployment rate dropped to 4.8% in December – the sixth straight month the rate has fallen – and the state has gained back 89.3% of the jobs lost during March and April 2020 at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Ryan Gedney, the senior economist for the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment, said the unemployment recovery rate during the COVID-19 recession has been “substantially faster” than the Great Recession and the recession that occurred during the early 2000s.

The seasonally adjusted unemployment rate fell from 5.1% to 4.8% in December, according to the monthly household survey, which was taken just before the omicron variant ran rampant across the U.S. and in Colorado.

Colorado employers added 9,000 nonfarm payroll jobs between November and December. The labor force increased by 8,500 in December, pushing it up above 3.2 million people for the first time, Gedney said.

And the number of people employed grew by 18,000 in December to more than 3 million people – 65% of the state’s population of people ages 16+. That was the best month in terms of employment gain since October 2020 when the state was in what Gedney called “full recovery mode.”

The 89.3% rate of jobs recovered that were lost between February and April 2020 is more than 5% higher than the U.S. rate of 84%. Gedney said Colorado’s recovery rate has accelerated over the past two months compared to the U.S. rate.

Over the past year the number of unemployed Coloradans fell by 65,000 – but nearly two-thirds of that decline has come in the past five months during a period of strong employment gain, Gedney said.

In terms of regional metropolitan unemployment levels, Boulder (3.2%) and Fort Collins (3.5%) have the lowest unemployment rates, while Pueblo (6.4%) has the highest among the seven major metro areas. Denver, Greeley, Colorado Springs and Grand Junction all had rates between 4.2% and 4.6% in December.

But Colorado Springs also has the fastest job recovery rate among the metro areas, with a rate of 113%. Denver was second with a 93% recovery rate.

The counties with the highest unemployment rates in December were Pueblo (6.4%), Huerfano (6.3%), Las Animas (5.5%), Fremont (5.5%), Rio Grande (5.2%).

November job gains were revised up by 4,300 jobs for a total of 14,100 instead of 9,800 as well.

Between December 2020 and December 2021, leisure and hospitality gained 85,600 jobs and professional and business services gained 22,000. The only sector that saw declining payroll jobs during the period was construction, which lost 600 jobs.

Other notes:

  • Phil Spesshardt, the director of the division of unemployment, said the CDLE was seeing fraudulent attempts to apply for the Disaster Unemployment Assistance program for people affected by the Marshall Fire in Boulder County, just as the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance was hit by fraudsters last year. He said within the first three minutes the application portal was open, two fraudulent claims were filed. He said as of Jan. 19, 2,867 DUA claims had been filed as well as another 4,800 state claims in which people said they were impacted by the fire. Spesshardt said those numbers are far higher than data would show about the number of affected citizens.
  • Gedney said the CDLE and lawmakers were working on solutions to pay back the money borrowed from the federal government to continue paying unemployment after the state’s trust fund became insolvent. He said he believes that over the next few years, the CDLE would like to get the trust fund built back to about $2 billion or $2.5 billion to be ready for another recession. The state has not had to borrow from the federal government since April, Gedney said, but he added that it might have to borrow a small amount in February or March.