Perhaps the most confusing business story of 2015 so far was the recent word from the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment, saying final revisions of local economic barometers — due in mid-March — likely will indicate the Colorado Springs area added about 6,000 jobs in 2014.
That statistic, if true, would mean a hefty adjustment from initial totals released by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Sorry, but we don’t understand how the BLS could have miscalculated our market by such a large percentage. As mentioned here over recent months, we’ve seen and heard of many anecdotal circumstances and signals that tell us the local economy has been on the upswing. But it’s hard to swallow that this Colorado Springs Metropolitan Statistical Area (El Paso and Teller counties) really has 6,000 more jobs today than a year ago.
Back in August 2012, most will recall, Mayor Steve Bach created big headlines by setting an annual goal of 6,000 new jobs a year for the three-year stretch of 2013 through 2015. Bach later clarified his intent to mean 6,000 more area residents having jobs, including local folks with employment in Denver or elsewhere. Bach and others felt Colorado Springs would need those 18,000 jobs to bring the local unemployment rate down to 5 percent.
Yet here we are, in early 2015, with a local unemployment rate already down to about 5.1 percent, implying Bach’s ambition will be achieved.
Alas, we have to be careful with statistics, even from the same source. Here’s an example: At the end of 2012, state reports established the “resident labor force” for the Colorado Springs MSA at 314,200 people — 287,370 employed and 26,830 unemployed. That came to an unemployment rate of 8.5 percent.
From what we’ve seen so far, this market ended 2014 with a labor force of 303,151 — 287,572 working, 15,579 without jobs, or 5.1 percent unemployment.
We don’t know how those “revised numbers” will look, but we suggest Colorado Springs leaders shouldn’t react by dancing in the streets.
Our concern focuses on how that total labor force is defined. During a time when the area’s population has maintained slow but steady growth, the “resident labor force” apparently has shrunk from 314,200 to 303,151 people, which means 11,049 fewer workers in our midst than in 2012.
Who are those 11,049 people, perhaps more if we factor in population growth? Did they give up looking for jobs? Did they retire early, or semi-retire? Have they settled for part-time or freelance work?
Perhaps we need to find other ways to quantify the local workforce. We might ignore the total labor force numbers as well as those without jobs, both near impossible to calculate.
Instead, let’s monitor on totals of people with jobs, a statistic with more credibility. That number for the local market was 287,370 in late 2012, then 286,274 in late 2013 and 287,370 in late 2014. It’s also much easier to believe.
If the state revises that particular number upward, as we’re told to expect, that’s probably good. But it doesn’t mean the battle is won, or that several new major employers bringing jobs to Colorado Springs will push us fully over the hump.
Yes, there is some momentum. When it comes to real economic development, though, Colorado Springs will need more to create a wave of new prosperity in the back half of this decade. So let’s remember that and never let up.