2014 Unemployment Rate – Challenges and Positives for 2015

On March 4, the Bureau of Labor Statistics released its annual unemployment data for Colorado. The 2014 unemployment rate for Colorado was 5.0%, down from 6.8% in 2013. The average number of unemployed decreased from 189,023 in 2013 to 141,387 in 2014.

With that as a background, some of the challenges and positives facing the economy are listed below.

Employment in Colorado has increased at a modest and manageable rate for the last two years. A similar level of growth is expected in 2015, but there will be some challenges.
• The decline in the price of oil has begun to hit Colorado producers. The breakeven point for the Niobrara is in the $65 to $70 range. Several companies have announced significant layoffs.
• In addition to the drop in the price of oil, demand for Colorado coal declined in 2014. Coal is a major driver of several rural economies throughout the state. With the decline in demand, many communities are fine tuning their economic development strategies to diversify their economies.
• Colorado’s rate of inflation is more than a point higher than the rate for the U.S. (The Denver-Boulder-Greeley index is used as a proxy for the state). Last year it was 1.6% for the U.S., while it was 2.8% for Colorado. The rapidly appreciating prices of housing in Denver and many parts of the state are largely responsible for the gap in inflation between the state and the nation.
• Rising home prices are a two-edged sword. They benefit the home owners but may be detrimental to prospective buyers. In parts of the Front Range, there is solid demand and low inventories for certain types of housing, particularly at the lower end. Affordable and attainable housing are in high demand.

On the other hand the state has many positives:
• Nationally, jobs are being added at rate that is accelerating slightly. That bodes well for Colorado.
• The decline in oil and gas prices has increased disposable income slightly, about $50 for 2014 and $500 to $700 for 2015.
• Rising home prices will be beneficial to Colorado. Homeowners are more confident if they feel the value of their home is increasing. As a result they may spend more. Rising property values directly benefit the coffers of local governments and school districts.
• After a slowdown in 2014, Wall Street is enjoying a bull market. This in turn creates wealth and increases greater consumer and business confidence.
• Unemployment is expected to remain below 5.0% throughout 2015. As a result wage pressures will become a bigger issue in more occupations and industries. This is great for workers, particularly if their increases exceed Colorado’s rate of inflation (2.8% in 2014). Wage increases that exceed the rate of inflation will serve as a form of stimulus to the economy because workers will have greater confidence and more to spend. In turn, education and state and local government will be able to more fully fund programs that have been underfunded in the past.
• Because the decline in the price of oil is a global issue, oil and gas employees may not be able to move to other states or countries to find work. With the Colorado unemployment in the range of 4.0% some of these workers may be able to stay in-state and work in construction, manufacturing or other positions.
• Colorado has experienced another first-rate ski season, with an added benefit of hosting the 2015 FIS Alpine World Ski Championships in Vail. The event showcased the state to 700 athletes from more than 70 nations.
• The spring snow storms significantly increased snowpack levels in many parts of the state; however, additional snow is needed. Water in critical for all aspects of Colorado’s economy. While the snow is often viewed as an inconvenience to those along the Front Range, it is essential to have good snow pack in our mountains and counties where agriculture dominates the local economy.
• The sectors that have driven the economy over the past two years are construction; healthcare; accommodations and food services; retail trade; and professional, scientific, and technical services (PST). These sectors are expected to account for about 60% of the job growth in the state in 2015. There will admittedly be challenges in the extractive industries; however, they will have a minor impact on the growth of the state’s top five sectors for job growth.

As Colorado addresses these challenges and positives, job growth in 2015 is expected to be at or slightly less than the rate for 2014.

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