At the beginning of 2011, local economic-development officials thought they had reason to celebrate as La Plata Countys economy showed signs of recovering faster than rest of the state. Last week, it turned out the cheery talk about Durangos early rise out of the recession may have been a bit premature.
Revised jobs reports released by the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment show that Durangos labor force and employment numbers were actually smaller than what monthly reports throughout the year have indicated.
That also means the Durango areas unemployment rate was higher than originally assumed. From May until December, La Plata Countys revised unemployment rate was between two-tenths and six-tenths of a percent higher than originally reported. During those same months, the number of people employed in the county was 4 to 7 percent lower than originally reported.
The new data show that Durangos economy didnt see its jobs picture start to improve until July, while original data suggested positive growth began in February. Growth is indicated by an increase of people in the labor force (people employed or actively looking for work) and an increase in the number of people employed, compared with the same month the year before.
It now looks as if La Plata Countys recovery was in line with the rest of the state, said Roger Zalneraitis, executive director of the La Plata County Economic Development Alliance.
The revisions resulted in us identifying a trend that wasnt there, Zalneraitis said.
The Labor Department revises its labor force data around this time every year. The process, called benchmarking, adds new data from the U.S. Census and from quarterly employment and wage reports into the formula used to calculate labor force numbers.
This years process was more drastic than previous years though because of a combination of factors, said Joseph Winter, a senior economist with the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment.
First, the 2010 census failed to calculate for college students who are of working age but are unable to work full-time jobs. Fort Lewis College has almost 4,000 students, and the revision took many of them out of the labor force, Winter said.
Commuting patterns in and out of the county, which werent included in previous calculations, also affected La Plata Countys employment numbers. In the revision, the number of people employed in Archuleta, Montezuma and Dolores counties rose between 3 and 6 percent, reflecting the number of non-county residents who commute to jobs in La Plata County.
Meanwhile, a lag in unemployment and wage data forces the state to make some projections when it calculates labor force, and this time those projections were too optimistic, Winter said.
Rural counties with smaller workforces saw their employment and labor force percentages vary the most as the state revised its numbers.
And the process isnt over yet, Winter said.
The Labor Department goes back five years in its data revisions, so its likely that employment numbers will be revised downward for previous years as well, Winter said.
We (Colorado) may see bigger impact from the recession than we were seeing originally, he said. The good news is its going to make where we are now look more like a recovery.
Locally, the variance in numbers caused by benchmarking makes it hard for organizations such as the Economic Development Alliance and the local workforce center to use and publicize the states monthly jobs reports, said Zalneraitis and Chloe Wiebe, southwest regional supervisor at the Colorado Workforce Center.
Employment statistics are one of several factors the city uses to project revenue and create a budget for the coming year, City Manager Ron LeBlanc said. If actual revenue from sales and building-use taxes dont line up with the citys predictions, inaccuracies in last years jobs reports could be at fault, LeBlanc said.
The states reports are the only resource for monthly employment numbers, Wiebe said.
I dont know where we could get more accurate data, she said.