bartender

Lindze Letherman, general manager for Hooch Craft Cocktail Bar, bartends at the bar’s outside space in downtown Aspen last week. According to the most recent city of Aspen monthly consumption report, restaurant and bar sales are slightly behind 2019’s sales, but they are improving compared with the pandemic-affected months of 2020.  

Pitkin County’s unemployment rate in August was 4.7%, another signal that the local workforce situation has settled down after suffering through last summer’s double-digit joblessness that immediately followed the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The unemployment figures for Pitkin County’s service-dominant labor force have fallen in line with that of neighboring counties. Garfield’s rate in August was recorded as 4.6% and Eagle’s was 4.7%, according to a monthly report from the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment released Friday.

Pitkin County had 17.6% unemployment in June 2020 after many businesses closed or were temporarily shuttered due to pandemic concerns and related public health restrictions on operating hours and capacity, as well as a national travel industry slump. The rate improved to 8.1% by August 2020 after some of the restrictions eased and many restaurants, bars and hotels brought back their employees and reopened with new ways of accommodating the public.

For several years up until the mid-March 2020 closure of ski areas that led to the economic slowdown, Pitkin enjoyed a jobless rate in the range of 3% to 4%. The August rate of 4.7% marks the first month the rate has fallen below 5% since the pandemic’s onset. It was recorded as 5.2% in July and 7% in June, state labor department data show.

The county’s total labor force in August was listed as 10,977 workers, with 10,457 employed and 520 unemployed. Comparatively, the labor force in August 2020 was recorded as 11,232 workers, with 10,325 employed and 907 unemployed. County and state officials have previously suggested that because of last year’s pandemic-created economic slump, many local service-industry employees have moved elsewhere to find new lines of work. Also the number of unemployed workers does not directly correspond with the number of county residents receiving state unemployment benefits.

Colorado’s jobless rate in August was 5.9%, the first time since March 2020 that it was below 6%. The U.S. rate last month was 5.2%.

Individuals employed in Colorado grew by 4,700 in August to push the total over 3 million: 3,004,200 to be precise. Of the state’s residents aged 16 and older, 64.2% are employed, the labor department said.

“Colorado has one of the highest employment-to-population ratios in the nation,” the report says. In July, the ratio ranked seventh among all states.

Counties with the highest unemployment rates in August were: Pueblo, 7.9%, Huerfano, 7.8%, Las Animas, 6.8%, Fremont, 6.5%, and Adams, 6.2%, the state labor report adds.

In other encouraging economic news, the city of Aspen’s most recent monthly consumption report shows that July’s overall taxable sales of $125 million were 38% higher than the same month in 2019. The city compares 2021 sales to two years ago because 2020’s pandemic-affected figures are not viewed as a true economic comparison.

“We continue to see a resurgence in economic activity through the summer season. Most industries continue to meet or exceed ‘normal’ levels, when compared to pre-pandemic 2019 figures, coinciding with robust tourism returning to the valley during the summer months,” the city’s consumption report states.

The report adds, “there are still a couple of industries that have been slower to recover — accommodations and restaurants/bars remain behind 2019 sales, down 16% and 1% respectively — but these sectors have made up significant ground following the weak peak months of the 2020-21 ski season, when sales fell dramatically.”

Aside from accommodations and restaurants/bars, the only other taxable sales category recording a decrease in July relative to the same month in 2019 was retail marijuana, which was down 7%.

Andre is a reporter for Aspen Daily News. He can be reached at andre@aspendailynews.com.