Sep 22, 2021 - Business

Defying the pandemic, Colorado sees an economic rebound

Colorado unemployment rate
Data: Colorado Legislative Council Economic Outlook; Note: 2021 average is from September 2020 to August 2021; Chart: Sara Wise/Axios

The state's economy continues to show substantial growth even as coronavirus cases hit 2021 highs and inequities persist.

Why it matters: The dichotomy β€” revealed Tuesday in two economic forecasts β€” is driving how Colorado leaders respond to the pandemic and decide to allocate billions in state and federal relief.

  • Yes, but: The state's rebound would look even better without the surging Delta variant, said Luke Teater, an economist in the governor's office.

By the numbers: The latest outlooks show that Colorado regained 78% of the jobs lost and unemployment dipped below 6% in August β€” the first time since before the pandemic.

  • Also for the first time, retail sales at restaurants, bars and hotels exceeded pre-pandemic levels.
  • Total job openings surpassed the number of unemployed people, even though both figures are still elevated compared with historical levels.
  • Colorado's revenue collections grew 10.7% in the fiscal year that ended June 30 and are expected to grow another 6.1% this year.

What they're saying: The economy continues "growing at a good clip," said Elizabeth Ramey, a legislative economist.

  • Gov. Jared Polis celebrated the news, saying the latest forecast "shows Colorado is roaring back."

The other side: Not all is rosy.

The state's 5.9% unemployment rate remains higher than the national average of 5.2%, but that's not a statistically significant gap.

  • Colorado is still down 82,400 jobs from pre-pandemic levels and the restaurant and hotel industry is missing 25,200 of those.

Moreover, the jobs recovery is far from even.

  • The average unemployment rate for Black residents is 14.5%, exceeding 2020 and more than three times greater than 2019.
  • Those with a high school diploma or less education are not seeing as many employment opportunities.

The bottom line: A year ago in September, economic forecasters raised red flags about the state's fiscal fate.

  • Now the future looks brighter β€” and the state may be forced to cut taxes and issue taxpayer refunds.

Editor's note: The graphic in this story was updated to correct the unemployment rate for men in Colorado. It is 6.1%.


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