Colorado paid a heavier price economically in its fight against COVID-19 than other states |

Colorado paid a heavier price economically in its fight against COVID-19 than other states

Aldo Svaldi
The Denver Post
DENVER, CO - FEBRUARY 3 : Photo taken guides of Social distance and mask rule are placed on each table of Barolo Grill in Denver, Colorado on Wednesday 3, 2021. The restaurant service includes indoor dining at 25% capacity, as well as outdoor dining & curbside pickup. (Photo by Hyoung Chang/The Denver Post)

DENVER — With COVID-19 cases rising rapidly, indoor dining going away, and federal support for small businesses stalled in Congress, Brandon Bortles made an excruciating decision in November: He closed his Abejas and Nosu Ramen restaurants in Golden and directed about 30 of his remaining workers to apply for state unemployment benefits.

“My capital was so low I couldn’t float them. Our hand was forced,” said Bortles, who doesn’t know when he will reopen, despite an easing of restrictions on indoor dining last month.

His layoffs were part of a much larger 24,300 jobs lost at restaurants and bars across the state in December, according to senior state labor economist Ryan Gedney. Losses in food service employment, combined with a surge in people rejoining the labor force, helped push up Colorado’s seasonally adjusted unemployment rate from 6.4% in November to 8.4% in December.

As 2020 came to an end, Colorado had 269,200 people without a job and actively looking for one, a higher total for the state than at any month during the Great Recession, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. It also had the nation’s fourth-highest unemployment rate after Hawaii, California and Nevada. Entering the pandemic, Colorado had the fifth-lowest unemployment rate at 2.5%.

Officials in every state have engaged in a grim calculus during the pandemic — balancing the need to protect human life against preserving livelihoods. Colorado’s calculation was effective in lowering case counts, but it also may have derailed one of the most robust labor markets in the nation.


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