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Jobs recover to pre-pandemic levels in Roaring Fork Valley

Pitkin, Eagle and Garfield counties now employing as many people as February 2020

Ajax Tavern back server Yolanda Mshwao clears tables during apres on the deck of the restaurant at the base of Aspen Mountain on Friday, March 25, 2022. Mshwao is helping out on the deck, even though she usually works inside dining, because it’s a busy weekend. (Kelsey Brunner/The Aspen Times)

It took the better part of two years for the number of people working in Pitkin and Garfield counties to finally bounce back to pre-pandemic levels.

Eagle County’s employment level has climbed above the pre-pandemic mark.

“As of February 2022, the number of employed individuals across all three counties is nearly where it was pre-pandemic in February 2020,” Monicque Aragon, managing senior economist with Colorado Labor Market Information, said Friday.



Pitkin County’s employment level has plateaued at slightly above 11,000 people for December through February, according to the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment. The last time more than 11,000 people in the county were employed was February 2020. Once the pandemic struck, employment dipped as low as 8,674 people in April 2020.

In Garfield County, there were 32,340 people employed in February 2020 but that dropped to 25,477 by April 2020, according to the state labor department. Monthly employment has exceeded 32,000 again starting in December of last year.




Meanwhile, the number of people working in Eagle County has surged past levels recorded prior to the onset of COVID-19, according to the labor department. There were about 37,600 people working in Eagle County in February 2020. There were more than 39,000 people employed in January and February.

The latest unemployment numbers haven’t been seasonally adjusted, so the rates could change slightly after more analysis.

The counties of the Roaring Fork Valley aren’t alone in the recovery, according to a report issued Friday by the state labor department.

“After the February gain of 14,100, Colorado has fully recovered the total nonfarm jobs lost in early 2020,” the report said. “Over the past 22 months, the state has added 381,800 nonfarm payroll jobs, compared to losses totaling 374,500 in March and April 2020.”

Pitkin County employment

The number of people employed in Pitkin County plummeted when the COVID-19 pandemic struck in 2020. Numbers steadily bounced back and by December 2021, they exceeded the pre-pandemic levels. Here are employment figures for various months, according to the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment.

Month: People employed

February 2020: 11,035

April 2020: 8,674

July 2020: 10,173

February 2021: 10,376

April 2021: 10,230

July 2021: 10,891

February 2022: 11,020

Aragon said the recovery in unemployment rate in Pitkin, Eagle and Garfield counties is lagging slightly behind the state as a whole.

“While these areas and the state are showing a relatively fast recovery in the labor market, especially when compared to prior recessions, these counties appear to be lagging the state just slightly in recovery in terms of the unemployment rate, and this is likely due to the differences in industry composition in counties across the state and that these areas that have a high concentration of leisure and hospitality employment saw some of the largest impacts to their labor markets due to the pandemic in 2020,” Aragon said in an email.

To the surprise of no one who lives in the Roaring Fork Valley, unemployment levels have sagged to traditionally miniscule levels this year.

Pitkin County’s unemployment was 3.5% in February while Eagle County fell to 2.9%. Garfield County was at 3.6%. All were lower than the state rate of 4%.

Friday’s report said the accommodations and food service industries added the most jobs statewide between April 2020 and last month. Retail was a distant second in job gains.

In the Roaring Fork Valley many employers have been making due for several months with reduced staffs. While tourism numbers are soaring, lack of affordable housing makes it more difficult than ever for businesses to find enough workers. Despite those trends, the hours worked declined between February 2021 and 2022 statewide while earning grew, according to the labor department report.

“Over the year, the average workweek for all Colorado employees on private nonfarm payrolls decreased from 33.3 to 32.9 hours, while average hourly earnings grew from $30.87 to $33.79, over two dollars and twenty cents more than the national average hourly earnings of $31,58,” the report said.

scondon@aspentimes.com


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