Colorado’s unemployment rate soared to 11.3% in April and employers shed more than 320,000 payroll jobs as the coronavirus pandemic hit the state’s economy, erasing years of job growth in a single month.
Employment fell in nearly every business sector and across all major metro areas, with particular pain felt by restaurants and hotels shuttered by the state’s stay-at-home policy. Workers in lower-wage jobs experienced the brunt of the layoffs.
Cher Haavind, deputy executive director of the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment, called the new numbers sobering. The department recorded an unemployment rate of 2.5% as recently as February.
“The April jobs numbers are the most telling indicator of COVID-19’s impact on our state’s economy,” Haavind said during a call with reporters on Friday. “We went from record low to record high unemployment in a matter of months, which is quite frankly unbelievable.”
April’s rate beat the state’s previous high of 8.9%, which was recorded during the Great Recession in 2010. The new rate is lower than the U.S. as a whole, which jumped above 14% in April.
“Colorado is still among the lowest in the country,” Haavind said. “But at some point that’s irrelevant to those who are out of work.”
Many economists say April is projected to be the worst single month in terms of job loss due to the pandemic. Weekly unemployment claims have been declining in May as some businesses start to reopen. However, they remain far above average for this time of year. Last week, the state saw roughly 25,000 new claims.
“Claims are still three times what they were during the Great Recession,” said Ryan Gedney, senior economist with CDLE. “Until those numbers get below 5-to-10,000 per week, there are still so many questions about the duration and severity of this.”
Several counties recorded unemployment rates above 20%, including Pitkin, Gilpin, San Miguel, Summit and Eagle counties. Gedney said that was due to their high concentration of jobs in leisure and hospitality.
Metro areas along the Front Range saw rates slightly lower than the state average. In all, Denver lost around 170,000 jobs in April. Fort Collins declined by 19,000, Boulder by 17,000 and Greeley by 11,000.