As the unemployment rate has dropped in La Plata County, the number of people in the labor force has also been on the decline.
With fewer people to fill positions, employees may be seeing higher wages or perks at work.
“The wage pressure might start building soon,” said Robert Sonora, director of the Fort Lewis College Office of Business and Economic Research.
Per-capita income in La Plata County has gradually increased since the recession. Between 2010 and 2013, per-capita income in the county increased 10 percent from $42,127 to about $46,633, according to the FLC Office of Business and Economic Research.
Since June this year, the county’s unemployment rate has continued to fall, dropping from 4 percent to 2.9 percent in September. This has given rise to a problem among some businesses: the inability to find new people.
This was true at Zia Taqueria during the summer, said owner Tim Turner.
“The economy in general, having a bit of a comeback, has made it more competitive for hiring,” he said.
Even though the county’s population has been growing steadily, the labor force has declined from about 30,000 in 2014 to about 29,800 this summer. This could mean those moving to the area may be retirees, Sonora said.
While wages could be on the uptick soon, those in service-based industries are unlikely to benefit, Sonora said.
“I don’t think you are going to see a whole lot of movement there,” he said.
This could make it tough for those at the lower end of the wage scale, as the amount of money it takes to live in La Plata County continues to rise annually.
The Thrive! Living Wage Coalition in La Plata County tries to address this problem by advocating that local businesses pay a living wage, rather than minimum wage, to make it possible for those in service industries to live in La Plata County.
As of October, the nonprofit had certified 52 local businesses as living-wage employers, said Maureen Maliszewski, director of the nonprofit.
To qualify, businesses must pay every member of their staff at least $12.40 an hour.
When certifying businesses, the coalition takes into account perks and benefits into its calculations.
Among these employers was Zia Taqueria. Although the restaurant does start employees at near the state minimum wage, which is $8.23, it offers perks, including a free meal with each shift, a quarterly bonus and a bicycle if they need one, Turner said.
“We try to be a generous employer,” he said.