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Colorado employment numbers improving

Strengthening housing market and job growth in most sectors credited

Colorado is adding enough jobs to keep up with the number of people who are rejoining the labor market or coming into the labor market for the first time, state labor economist Alexandra Hall said Friday.

“At this time, what we can see is we’re absorbing new entrants and re-entrants into the labor force,” said Hall, chief economist with the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment. “We’re absorbing them now fast enough to maintain a downward trend in the unemployment rate,”

The state’s unemployment rate fell one-tenth of a percentage point to 7.2 percent in February.

The decrease was encouraging because the number of people employed increased as did the total labor force, Hall said.

La Plata County’s not-seasonally adjusted unemployment rate jumped from 6.3 percent in January to 6.5 percent in February but remained well below the 7.8 percent unemployment the county experienced in February 2012.

Improvement in the state’s employment situation also has been felt here, said Mark Prouty, branch manager with SOS Employment Group in Durango.

“People are still very cautious but are on the positive side,” Prouty said. “Everybody is taking itty-bitty steps, saying ‘I’ll stick my toe in the water and see how it goes.’”

This is the 20th straight month that Colorado has seen job growth, Hall said. As of February, the state has recovered 144,200 or 93.2 percent of the 155,000 jobs lost in the Great Recession, she said. By comparison, the nation has recovered about 5.7 million of the 8.7 million jobs lost in the recession, Hall said.

The state added 10,800 jobs from January to February with the biggest gains in professional and business services; leisure and hospitality; and trade, transportation and utilities. The construction sector, which started adding jobs at the beginning of last year, is expected to continue growing as the housing market improves, Hall said.

The housing market also is looking strong in Durango, and Prouty said an increase in projects here have opened up more construction jobs. Single-family home permits in La Plata County, for example, are at their highest level since 2008.

The nation’s foundation for a continued recovery is stronger in 2013 because of improvement in the housing market and job growth in most sectors, according to the most recent economic forecast published by the Colorado-based Business and Economic Research firm.

Even so, consumer debt remains high and consumption is still weak, the report said.

After 3˝ years of being classified as “distressed,” the financial condition of American households has improved to “at risk,” according to the U.S. CredAbility Consumer Distress Index, which measures the employment, housing, credit, budget and net worth of American households. Such measures of Americans’ financial stability affect consumer spending and confidence levels, the research report said.

The report also showed that the recession hasn’t caused Americans to make long-term changes to their spending and savings habits.

ecowan@durangoherald.com