Santa has more help this year to make today a merry occasion for thousands of La Plata Countys kids.
According to the latest employment reports, more locals had work this holiday season than last year.
This is pretty incredible, said Roger Zalneraitis, director of the La Plata Economic Development Alliance. Its basically the largest increase in employment weve seen, year over-year, in a decade.
The Colorado Department of Labor and Employment this month reported a 12 percent increase in the number of La Plata County residents who had jobs last month compared with the same month last year. Only Garfield and Hinsdale counties saw bigger gains.
That amounts to more than 3,100 local residents put back to work just in time for the holiday season, Zalneraitis said.
La Plata Countys unemployment rate fell to 5.8 percent in November. Colorados unemployment rate fell to 8 percent.
Even the real unemployment figures, which would consider those workers who gave up on finding work and no longer qualify for unemployment benefits, provide a merrier Christmas picture, Zalneraitis said.
By his calculations, there are about 900 to 1,000 local workers, or just less than 2 percent of the population, who should be in the labor force today but are not. Thats better than both the state and national averages.
Colorado is well ahead of the national average, and we are well ahead of the Colorado average, Zalneraitis said.
Zalneraitis estimated about 3.5 percent of Colorados workers are seeking a chance to jump back in to the labor force. The national figures are higher, he said.
The employment gains locally come even as government around the state in November cut 1,600 jobs and the private sector shed 2,900 positions. The state unemployment rate fell one-tenth of a percent to 8 percent as more than 17,000 people were put back to work and 3,500 people dropped from the official unemployment rolls last month, the state labor department said.
The biggest job gains last month came from professional and business services, the department said.
Since November 2010, about 45,000 people not on unemployment joined or re-joined the working ranks in Colorado and 21,300 people dropped from the unemployment rolls, the labor department reported.
Workweek hours remained relatively stable with the average worker putting in 34.4 hours per week. But the average wages workers brought home grew from $23.86 per hour to $24.19, which local officials say also may have contributed to more generosity in the packages under Christmas trees.
The more you make, the more you spend, said Jack Llewellyn, director of the Durango Chamber of Commerce.
With 3,000 more locals gainfully employed, and possibly earning more money doing it, Llewellyn said Durangos buy local attitude could mean theres still more merry news to be drawn from the figures.
As people look to buy local first, every dollar theyre spending continues to turn over in our local economy and works to create yet more new jobs, Llewellyn said. This is the kind of growth that can raise the tide to help float all boats.