Looking out my window this week offers me a cloudy picture of what is going on in our fair county and/or state.
I want to begin with information released in the February newsletter from the Yampa Valley Data Partners on Friday past. This is a monthly newsletter that reports quick facts from Moffat, Rio Blanco and Routt counties:
Employment: Favorable December 2014 unemployment rates in Moffat (4.2 percent), Rio Blanco (3.2 percent) and Routt (3.0 percent) combined for a tri-county improvement of 1.2 percent from one year earlier. The December 2014 Colorado unemployment rate was 4.2 percent, with the U.S. rate at 5.6 percent.
Industry: Mining held its place as the largest industry in terms of total wages for Moffat and Rio Blanco counties in the third quarter of 2014, accounting for about a fifth of all wages. Construction led the way as the largest wage-producing industry in Routt County.
Retail Sales: Latest available state retail sales figures showed Routt County (7 percent) and Rio Blanco County (5 percent) outpacing year-to-date figures from the previous year, with Moffat County running behind its previous-year figures by about 6 percent.
Real Estate: January 2015 median list prices for homes were up 10 percent in both Rio Blanco and Routt counties, and were down by 9 percent in Moffat County, compared to the same period last year. Favorable foreclosure ratios were running at lower than 1 of every 1,000 homes.
Energy: January 2015 coal production was up 47 percent in Moffat and 86 percent in Rio Blanco, and down 45 percent in Routt, compared to January 2014. Moffat oil and gas numbers slightly trailed January 2014 figures, while Rio Blanco oil and gas outperformed the previous January.
Climate: The end of February found snow-water at Rabbit Ears, Buffalo Pass, Ripple Creek and Burro Mountain running 10 percent to 20 percent below 10-year averages. Stagecoach and Yamcolo reservoirs were holding at 10 percent to 25 percent above usual water levels. The Yampa River and White River were flowing 9 percent to 20 percent above their 2007-2014 averages.
Everything I have read seems to follow that things are and have been pretty good for Rio Blanco and Moffat counties and a bit down for Routt. As a matter of fact, state statistics have shown things to be doing downright well in Rio Blanco County for almost the last year.
Well, at least until January, when the Colorado Department of Employment took a new look at things, which drastically changed the situation or outlook in Rio Blanco County.
According to a press release issued by Bill Thoennes of the Colorado Office of Government, Policy and Public Relations this past week, as of Jan. 1, Rio Blanco had lost roughly 1,600 people from its available workforce, more than 1,500 were off the employment list (jobs lost) and its unemployment rate rose from 3.4 percent to 6.1 percent.
Thoennes is not the person responsible for the facts, just for reporting them. But, he wrote the following in starting off the monthly state unemployment report:
Colorado Employment Situation: January 2015
Important note: It is a routine practice at the beginning of each year for the Bureau of Labor Statistics to revise estimates for prior years based on new information available and updated methodologies. Revisions to the unemployment rate and all related household survey-based series as a result of the benchmark process this year were particularly significant due to a change to American Community Survey-based inputs. All series were revised back to 1976.
His comments sound like some ominous news is going to follow. It did.
The next logical thing to do is to report what the state reported about Rio Blanco County for December 2014.
In a quick snapshot: Rio Blanco County’s unemployment rate for December was 3.2 percent, which was 1.1 percent lower than in December 2013. The county unemployment rate had slid from 4.3 percent in December 2013 until October and November, when the rate was 3.0 even and then it rose by .2 percent in December.
In December, the state reported, there were 4,161 persons in the available Rio Blanco County workforce. That meant there were 4,029 folks employed and 132 who were unemployed, for a 3.2 percent jobless rate.
Last week, the state issued its report for January 2015, and it appears that the state department is talking about a different place entirely.
For January, the state reports, there were 2,647 folks in the available workforce, there were 2,485 who were employed and there were 162 on the county’s jobless roster for a 6.1 percent unemployment rate.
Figuring it was a mistake, I emailed Thoennes back and told him I thought there was an error in reporting and would he please check.
He wrote me back saying that he had checked with whoever it is one checks with and that the figures were correct.
I emailed him back saying that something is wrong or has been wrong for more than a year.
In a single month, I will guarantee that Rio Blanco County didn’t lose 1,514 people from its available workforce, didn’t lose 1,544 people from its list of job holders and, if everything from the 2014 reports was accurate, the 6.1 percent unemployment rate for January was insane.
He said he’d check again, and, again, the figures from January came back as correct.
I am not a fortune teller. I am not privileged to have access to the State of Colorado’s computer system. I don’t have all the wisdom that is available out there.
But I am smart enough and I suspect most of those in this county government are smart enough to recognize bull, er, baloney when they see it.
This county did not lose more than 1,500 people from its workforce during the month and it didn’t have roughly 1,500 fewer jobs in one month.
So, what does it all mean?
It means to me that either the state’s “official” employment/unemployment figures are nothing short of fiction or that the figures from January of this year are nothing short of fiction.
Either the state lied or has been mistaken regarding all of the 2014 figures or the January 2015 figures.
One set is just plain wrong!
Which is it?
But we are supposed to trust our state government and its figures? I don’t any longer.
And I know I would certainly like to have all the salary paid by the state to all of those state employees who are being paid to be accurate.
Either we were off all last year, which is convenient during an election year, or we are off in January. I don’t know which.
I mean, I would love to know, but I would also bet our county officials would like to know if we have had the wrong numbers for several months or just for one month.
Was Rio Blanco’s jobless rate in the low 3 percents for the last six months or in the 6.1 percent range they say it is now?
I don’t know who to believe, but it is supposedly the same agency coming up with both sets of figures, and when you don’t believe or can’t trust all the accountants in the state employment offices to come up with consistent and accurate numbers, then who can you believe?
It’s kind of makes you question what else is wrong with the state’s figures, and that does not instill a feeling of confidence.