On paper, Colorado’s 6.2 percent unemployment rate looks like good news, down from a recent high of 9.1 percent in 2010. But a Denver Post analysis of labor statistics shows that the numbers don’t reflect about a quarter of a million people who’ve vanished from the workforce since the recession of 2008.
Because of Colorado’s aging population, about half of those are believed to have retired, leaving some 125,000 people who’ve simply given up looking for work.
“Counting them,” the Post reported, “puts the unemployment rate back above 10 percent.”
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that Colorado’s workforce participation rate — a calculation of the percentage of working-age people who are either employed or actively looking for work — is at its lowest point since 1976. The rate was at 73.3 percent before the recession in 2006 and at 67.2 percent in December, the Post reported.
“We have seen quite a drop in the labor-force participation rate, and a lot of people are concerned about this,” Alexandra Hall, the state’s chief labor economist, told the newspaper.
Official unemployment numbers paradoxically don’t count people who’ve stopped looking for work as being unemployed. Reasons for giving up include a lack of jobs or an inability to match workers’ skills with jobs that are available.
It could get worse. The Post reports that there are many long-term unemployed who may be on the verge of giving up as well, with 37 percent of them having been out of work for more than six months. That’s triple the average in Colorado from 1980-2006.
One 47-year-old woman the Post interviewed has been looking for a job for five years.
“An exceptionally large number of people have been unemployed for long periods, and the stigma attached to their long-term unemployment, along with a possible erosion of their job skills, has made it difficult for them to find new work,” according to a Congressional Budget Office report quoted in the Post.
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