Colorado Job Data a Mixed Bag

April 4, 2012

Colorado lost more than 14,000 financial-services sector jobs between January 2008 and January 2012

DENVER—Colorado’s job growth has shown mixed results in the first few months of 2012, as government reports and employer data have indicated areas of improvement but also concerns for the strength of recovery.

But, the Denver Post reports that Alexandra Hall, chief labor economist for Colorado, acknowledges that the state still has “not yet reached a point of strength.”

The Post article pointed to one measure where the results are ambiguous in determining the state’s economic status. While layoff “events” have decreased during the first quarter of 2012 by nearly a third, from 49 to 35, the number of jobs lost increased from 1,611 to 1,912, or nearly nineteen percent.

Denver Mayor Michael Hancock touted a report at the end of March that appeared to show a gain of 29,100 new jobs for the Denver metro area, a 2.47 percent increase. Colorado ranked 3rd among major metropolitan areas for job growth, the study concluded. The study relied on numbers of “seasonally unadjusted” jobs provided by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, from January 2011 to January 2012.

A deeper look into the seasonally unadjusted numbers used in the study shows a somewhat different picture when comparing December 2010 numbers to the January 2012 figures used by the report. When comparing the number of jobs in the Denver-Aurora-Broomfield area using the new search parameters, only 2,600 jobs have been added since the last month of 2010. That’s a paltry growth of just 0.2 percent.

Unlike the Mayor’s preferred study, a different look at seasonally adjusted numbers provided by BLS shows a bit more strength for Colorado overall, with jobs increasing by 48,000 from February 2011 to February 2012, with additions in the construction, manufacturing, transportation/utilities, professional and business services, education and health services, and leisure/hospitality.

One-year comparisons, for example, have limitations. The number of construction jobs before the 2008 recession stood at approximately 170,000. Despite a modest bump from 2011 to 2012, the number stands at 117,500 as of February, still off more than 31 percent.

Similarly, Colorado has lost more than 14,000 financial-services sector jobs between January 2008 and January 2012, ranking it 41st.

Analysis by G. Scott Thomas of The Business Journals using the BLS statistics from January 2008 to January 2012 placed Colorado in 31st, with a private sector job loss of 81,300.

In contrast, Thomas’s analysis showed the state was 4th in public sector jobs created with an increase of 11,800 jobs over the same time period.  Only Maryland, Virginia, and the District of Columbia (nestled between the two states) experienced more growth in government jobs.

Green jobs efforts have not produced the panacea of job creation promised by government officials and supported by billions of dollars in local incentives and federal rebates, credits, and subsidies. BLS numbers for the sector, also released in March, showed what a Brookings Institute author described as a “reality check against expectations and promises that, in retrospect, now appear to have been exaggerated and unrealistic.

A 2011 Colorado Department of Labor and Employment survey of green jobs found that “most” predated the “green economy.” Former Gov. Bill Ritter kicked off what he dubbed the “New Energy Economy” when he began his term in January 2007, less than a year before the drastic economic downturn.

Even new jobs created in the state by renewable energy companies have taken a hit in recent months. Abound Solar laid off 70 percent of its workforce in February 2012 despite a $400 million Department of Energy loan guarantee, and Vestas Wind Systems is threatening significant job cuts—about 1,600—should the company not see an extension of the wind production tax credit that ends this year. The company has already announced worldwide layoffs of more than 2,300 jobs.

While officials like Denver’s Mayor Hancock have taken any positive news from the released figures as a sign of regional recovery, some pushback against the numbers from the BLS has cropped up when preliminary estimates—and expectations—of growth appeared to go unmet.

Some states, like Massachusetts, have called into question the statistical methods used by BLS, after an unfavorable revision in jobs reported in the Bay State lowered overall job growth in 2011 from nearly 41,000 jobs added to just 9,100. The state said it would seek alternative job accounting methods to account for discrepancies.

Tyler Q. Houlton, president of Compass Colorado, noting that the increase in government jobs was offset by struggles in the private sector, pointed at the current administration’s spending, particularly on itself, as the reason for the disappointing figures.

“While Colorado families struggle to make ends meet, unelected bureaucrats continue to live a life of luxury thanks to Barack Obama’s reckless expansion of government. Coloradans are fed up with Obama’s broken promises and unsustainable spending spree,” Houlton told The Colorado Observer.

Attempts to reach Colorado Democratic Party Chairman Rick Palacio for comment went unanswered at press time.

Examples of alleged administrative waste have become fodder for the 2012 Presidential race. Earlier this week, a government oversight report pointed to a government junket at one of the nation’s most popular getaways, and found the expenditures made by government officials inconsistent with internal agency policy not in accordance with “federal procurement laws.”

The revelations of profligate spending by the General Services Administration on a lavish Las Vegas conference in 2010 that included a clown and a mind reader led to the resignation of the department chief and the firing of others, as the administration scrambled to deal with the fallout.

Brian D. Miller issued his report (PDF) from the Office of the Inspector General, calling the conference spending “excessive, wasteful, and in some cases impermissible.

The OIG issued its findings in a “Management Deficiency Report.”

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