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Aspen job forecast grim

Wyatt Haupt Jr.
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado

ASPEN, Colorado ” With a mounting pile of evidence suggesting that Colorado has followed the rest of the nation into recession, the employment outlook for job seekers in Aspen and Pitkin County, Colorado appears grim this year.

“I think you are fooling yourself if you think you are isolated or insulated,” said Tucker Hart Adams, a regional economist and president of The Adams Group Inc., of Colorado Springs. “We have certainly seen announcements from both Vail and Aspen about skier days being off and employee layoffs.”

While it would seem tough to fathom the possibility of this year mimicking, or being a worse job market than 2008, the stage is certainly set.

“The American consumer is highly in debt, and has pretty much quit saving,” Hart said. “And there is a major change in behavior. People are cutting back on spending.”

That means when they come to resorts, such as Aspen, they are not as inclined to spend money beyond what is earmarked for the slopes. And if they are not spending money, the need to keep staffing levels up at retail stores, restaurants and other businesses will diminish.

“It will be a difficult year for Aspen,” Adams said. “I think there will be no job growth, and employment declines in Aspen.”

That forecast comes after a tough finish in 2008 for the area. The year-end job picture was dark.

The unemployment rate for Pitkin County reached 3.6 percent in December. That was the highest such recording for the month in five years, and more than a full percentage point loftier than December 2007, when the jobless rate was 2.5 percent.

As a result, the number of people with jobs in Pitkin County plunged to 11,318 as of Dec. 31 ” from 12,083 in the same period one year earlier. Data is based on figures compiled by the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment.

Numbers specific to Aspen were not available.

Statewide, the jobless rate increased to 6.3 percent in December from 4.4 percent in the period ending Dec. 31, 2007. Data is not adjusted for seasonality.

The lowest unemployment rate for the period was recorded in Sedgwick County at 2.2 percent, and with Dolores County notching the highest rate in the state at 9.8 percent.

All told, 37 of the 64 counties in Colorado posted higher jobless rates at the end of December; 24 had lower levels. Three other counties were unchanged.

By comparison, the national unemployment rate was 7.1 percent in December. That was up 2.3 percentage points from December 2007.

“We are trending in the same direction as the rest of the nation,” said Joseph Winter, a senior economist with the Colorado labor department.

That trend is a decline in general business activity, which Colorado entered into the last quarter of 2008, according to the labor department. The nation officially went into recession in the December 2007, government data shows.

How long it takes the state and national economies to rebound is anybody’s guess.

“I think we’ve got another year of recession, at least,” Adams said.

On a brighter note, the first sign of the recovery process will, most likely, take place in the labor market. A stabilization of the housing and stock markets also will be strong indicators of a rebound.

“Ultimately, you’ve got to look at jobs,” Adams said. “If people don’t have jobs or they can’t find jobs, they aren’t going to be spending money.”


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