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ARCHIVED  November 1, 1997

Unemployment in region remains below U.S. stats

Unemployment in Northern Colorado remained well below the national rate throughout the previous quarter, as job creation throughout the state and particularly along the Front Range continued at a slower, but steady, pace.The state˜s unemployment rate stood at a mere 3.5 percent at the end of June, as compared with the national rate of 5 percent, the lowest in two decades. Colorado˜s unemployment rate has been below the national rate every month since June 1990.
"Nearly all regions of the state are experiencing job growth, said Ken Anderson, an economist with the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment. "The only sector that shows weakness is mining. That continues to decline, but that has been a long-term trend."
Anderson said his department projects that 50,000 to 70,000 new jobs will be created by year˜s end in nonagricultural wage and salaried jobs, slightly more than were created last year.
"The largest job growth we have is in the service sector," Anderson said, "and construction continues to be quite strong. Overall, the economy remains pretty strong."
Anderson˜s optimism is not shared by all of his economist colleagues, who see the potential for some problems on the horizon.
Stephan Weiler, assistant professor of economics at Colorado State University and a regional economist, agrees that job growth is continuing but urges caution in drawing favorable comparisons with the national economy.
"The national unemployment rate is a very broad stroke," Weiler said. "There are a lot of different little labor markets. The rate in Fort Collins is below 3 percent, while areas in the Rust Belt and in West Virginia are persistently in the 25 to 30 percent range. You can˜t predict much comparing the two."
Weiler said the reasons for his concern about the longer-term unemployment and growth picture along the Front Range are not revealed in unemployment statistics alone.
"There is dynamic growth in the Colorado economy, particularly Northern Colorado," Weiler affirmed. "But part of my disquiet is a lack of depth in that growth. A month or two of bad numbers, and that growth pattern could be quickly affected."
With respect to employment, Weiler is concerned about the nature of the jobs being created.
"The top growth jobs predicted for Colorado between now and the year 2000 are in sales and services," Weiler noted. "Retail sales, food service, general managers, janitors, cashiers, security guards and similar low-wage jobs. Finding jobs with any career path in Colorado can be difficult. So, while everyone who wants a job may have one, it may not be the type of job they want long-term."
While not disputing Weiler˜s assessment, Anderson does not see Colorado˜s disproportionate increase in service-sector jobs as troubling.
"Service is such a varied sector," Anderson said. "There are low- and high-wage jobs."
Weiler believes that Northern Colorado may be developing a two-tiered wage structure.
"There is a real bifurcation in the wage structure here," he said. "It˜s high-wage, low-wage. There˜s not much in the middle."
Other local economists are taking more of a traditional approach to the continued low unemployment statistics.
"Unemployment is usually cyclical," said John Green, a professor of economics at the University of Northern Colorado. "It peaks in June, when college kids leave school and goes down in September. But in an area growing as fast as Northern Colorado, there is persistent demand for all kinds of goods and services. That fuels job growth."
But Green, too, has some concern.
"Historically, unemployment remains cyclical," he said. "But economists believe unemployment may hit a trough from which it would be difficult to easily recover."
Weiler is not pessimistic about the long-term prospects for low unemployment in Colorado, merely wary.
"Fort Collins, for example, is strong in manufacturing in some well-paying sectors: instruments: high-tech engineering, semiconductors and computers. The problem for me is that large retail sector. If you can get one of those high-tech jobs, great. If not É"

Unemployment in Northern Colorado remained well below the national rate throughout the previous quarter, as job creation throughout the state and particularly along the Front Range continued at a slower, but steady, pace.The state˜s unemployment rate stood at a mere 3.5 percent at the end of June, as compared with the national rate of 5 percent, the lowest in two decades. Colorado˜s unemployment rate has been below the national rate every month since June 1990.
"Nearly all regions of the state are experiencing job growth, said Ken Anderson, an economist with the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment. "The only…

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