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The Economist: Colorado’s job growth hasn’t kept pace with population

A whole passel of topics is piling up in my folder of column ideas, none quite enough for an entire column but all of them things that are interesting and important. So, this month I thought I would comment on several of them.

One thing that mystifies me is the disparity between population growth and job growth in Colorado over the last decade. Between 2000 and 2010, state population grew by 727,935. In 2000, 55 percent of Colorado residents were in the labor force (had a job or were looking for one); in 2010 it was 53 percent. If we split the difference, 54 percent or about 390,000 of our new residents should be in the job market.

But during that period Colorado companies added only 6,300 workers. What were the other 383,000 doing? Surely it wasn't all kids graduating from college and moving in with their parents. Besides, most of those were Colorado residents to begin with.

There is another measure of employment - by place of residence rather than by place of work - that picks up agricultural workers and sole proprietors. The latter are people who report their income on a Schedule C rather than receiving a W2. (I'm not an accountant so I'm sure that explanation isn't precisely correct, but it is close enough.)

By that measure we gained 147,520 jobs over the decade, while the number of unemployed grew by 174,886. That's 322,406 more people in the labor force, or 44 percent of the population gain. Since I haven't heard of a surge in the number of farmers in the state, most of the new residents are unemployed, working for themselves or filling jobs vacated by people who decided to work for themselves.

And it still leaves 60,000 people unaccounted for. More, actually, because many of the jobs are part-time, and many people worked two or more jobs during the Great Recession when they couldn't find full-time work. It could be retirees - after all, we are getting older - but the labor force/population ratio doesn't support that idea.

There are various measures of unemployment. The one we are used to reading about is the U-3, which averaged 8.7 percent in Colorado in 2010, below the nation's 9.6 percent. If we add in discouraged workers, those who want a job but haven't looked for one in the last four weeks because they think it is a waste of time, Colorado's unemployment rate jumps to 9.1 percent, the U-4.

 If we add in all the people who've looked for a job in the last year but not the last month and all the people working part-time because they can't find full-time jobs, the unemployment rate jumps to 15.4 percent.

I'm not sure what the answer to the employment/population conundrum is, but I am sure that the job market is a long way from being healthy. That is the biggest problem facing our economy as we stumble out of the long recession that ended two years ago.

On a cheerier note, a piece in the May 11 issue of The Economist reassures us that the Florida legislature has voted down the threat to our health posed by unlicensed interior designers. They based this action on studies showing unlicensed designers would use fabrics that might spread disease, causing 88,000 deaths a year. Even more alarming, clashing color schemes might adversely affect salivation. What a relief to know our politicians are keeping us safe! I hope none of Colorado's new residents who work from home is practicing design without a license.

I wonder how many of our new residents have a college degree. In the first quarter, employment for Americans with a college degree or higher increased 521,000, while jobs for those with only a high school diploma fell by 318,000.

And for all of us, employed or not, air fares at Denver International Airport fell 29 percent over the last decade. It was the fourth largest decline in the country.
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Tucker Hart Adams

Tucker Hart Adams, president of the Adams Group, monitored and analyzed the Colorado economy for 30 years. She can be reached via her website, coloradoeconomy.com.

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