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Research / Discovery

Colorado economy on the rebound - mostly

March 12, 2014

Colorado has more jobs than ever before, but recovery from the Great Recession continues to elude some areas of the state.

CSU economics professor Martin Shields.Those are some of the findings included in a report from Colorado State University’s Regional Economics Institute (REI). The report notes the economy in the northern Front Range has seen the most job activity while the Colorado Springs and Grand Junction areas continue to lag.

“Although the state economy overall has performed better than the nation since the end of the recession, many Colorado communities, businesses and individuals are still struggling with the aftermath,” said Martin Shields, who directs REI and is a professor of economics in CSU’s College of Liberal Arts. “The varied economic progress across Colorado shows the diversity of the state's economy. Yet it also highlights the need for more geographically targeted economic development policy. What works in one region will not necessarily work elsewhere.”

Slow recovery

Recovery from the Great Recession, which officially began in December 2007 and ended in June 2009, has been slow. Colorado lost 146,000 jobs in those 18 months, and only recently regained them.

The Colorado Department of Labor and Employment-Labor Market Information reported the state had 2.37 million non-farm jobs in December 2013, which is nearly 30,000 more than reported on the eve of the recession. Colorado has added 170,000 jobs since the state’s economy bottomed out in January 2009.

Some areas thriving

Greeley (6.8 percent), Fort Collins-Loveland (4.3 percent) and Boulder (3.4 percent) have shown the largest job increases, with the Denver-metro area (3.1 percent) close behind. Shields cited the rapidly growing oil and gas industry in Weld County, and the knowledge economies in Fort Collins-Loveland and Boulder, as the drivers behind those increases.

Colorado Springs, meanwhile, has 7,400 fewer jobs (a 2.8 percent decrease) and Grand Junction 3,000 fewer jobs (a 4.7 percent drop) than pre-recession levels. Colorado Springs’ biggest hit came in computer and electronic product manufacturing, where 1,210 jobs have been lost since 2007.

“Grand Junction's resource economy has suffered due to the volatility in natural gas prices and increased supply elsewhere,” Shields said. “Ironically, new oil drilling practices have helped the Greeley area add jobs faster than any other region in the state.”

Unemployment high, income low

Interestingly, while Colorado has 1.2 percent more jobs than it did in 2007, the state’s unemployment rate (6.2 percent) is still significantly higher that pre-recession levels (3.5 percent), and there are 169,000 Coloradans actively looking for work – an increase of more than 76,000 job seekers. Shields attributed that increase to steady growth in the state’s labor force since 2007.

Also, adding jobs hasn’t meant more household income.

In 2007, median household income in the state was $60,943, while current median income is $57,255. Shields said most of the state’s new jobs have been added in the lower-paying health care, food service, and professional and technical service industries.

Recovery incomplete

Shields said work needs to be done to help Colorado’s economy fully recover from the Great Recession.

“Even though Colorado has more jobs than ever, many of the newly created positions pay less than average wages,” he said. “As a result household incomes have stagnated. One of the real challenges the state faces is creating jobs that pay higher wages.”