July data shows Summit County unemployment rate is the 2nd highest in the state
FRISCO — It should come as no surprise that unemployment is high across the state, with resort communities being hit hardest. In July, Summit County had the second highest rate of unemployment behind only Gilpin County, according to the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment.
Summit County’s unemployment rate was 10.1% in July, when more than 2,000 people were reported unemployed out of the estimated 22,000-person labor force, according to the Department of Labor’s area summary. In Colorado as a whole, the unemployment rate was 7.4% in July, a decrease from June’s 10.6% rate. However, Colorado’s labor force also decreased in July by 97,500 people. Pitkin and Eagle counties, which house other resort towns, weren’t far behind Summit County with an unemployment rate of 9.4% in July.
Statewide, leisure and hospitality was the industry that saw the most significant job gains in July. In contrast to the July unemployment rate, workforce demand is high in Summit County with 1,239 job openings advertised on the Department of Labor’s site Aug. 30, though August unemployment rates are not yet available for comparison. Currently, Summit School District and Vail Resorts have the most job openings in the county, followed by Lowe’s, Copper Mountain Resort and Breckenridge Grand Vacations. Among the fastest growing occupations in the county are waiters and waitresses, prep cooks, retail sales people, housekeepers and cashiers.
Brianne Snow, executive director of the Family & Intercultural Resource Center, said the data from the state was on par with what the center expected.
“Our clients essentially are letting us know that they’re back to work, but they’re not back to work at full capacity,” Snow said. “They’re really just trying to weigh what it costs in child care with their wages at their job and how many hours makes sense for them to go back.”
She noted that people in the small business arena aren’t seeing the same amount of hours. To make things work, parents are taking turns in order to make sure there is constant child care, which makes scheduling difficult. Snow said the resource center knows some families have left Summit County but simply isn’t sure how many or whether they plan to come back. Overall, Snow said the nonprofit’s clients want to go back to work but that child care seems to be the biggest barrier.
School starting up again added another unknown. Snow said many clients are dependent on schools as child care, so families were waiting to see how schools would reopen before going back to work. Now, Snow said she is hearing that parents with elementary-age children are working with other parents, partners and relatives to find child care on Wednesdays, when school is remote, so that parents can go back to work full time.
TJ Messerschmitt, president of the Breckenridge Restaurant Association and owner of Fatty’s Pizzeria, said his restaurant was able to keep full-time employees with money from the federal Paycheck Protection Program. However, part-time people were not part of that equation and were furloughed or laid off, and many applied for unemployment. When restaurants were allowed to reopen for in-person dining, Messerschmitt used full-time employees that had stayed with the restaurant throughout the shutdown, and then he started bringing on part-time employees as needed. The issue has been that there aren’t as many employees as there were before, which could be attributed to people leaving the county.
“There’s definitely been a drop in the employment field in this town,” Messerschmitt said.
Messerschmitt said the real issue has been in the kitchens, where there’s a lack of available employees and qualified chefs. He said he’s never had this hard of a time getting a line cook. Messerschmitt pointed out that the Hispanic community runs a lot of the kitchen business in Summit County, but they might not have received unemployment benefits if they were laid off or furloughed. Front-of-house staff and other non-Hispanic workers “took the unemployment and ran,” he said.
Despite dwindling unemployment benefits, Messerschmitt said there still hasn’t been a resurgence in the local workforce, which will be needed this winter — especially since international employees cannot be hired on visas.
Tim Applegate, who owns several restaurants around the county — including Sauce on the Blue, Sauce on the Maggie, Quandary Grille and Inxpot Cafe — echoed some of Messerschmitt’s sentiments. Applegate said the restaurants have several job openings that haven’t been filled, particularly in the kitchen. He said that during the shutdown, some staff was laid off, including servers, and while the restaurants have brought back anyone who wants to return, not everyone has come back due to relocation or other reasons.
Breckenridge Lodging Association President Toby Babich said the issue for the lodging community has been gauging staffing needs. Typically, the lodging industry is able to look at booking volumes well in advance and staff appropriately, but during the shutdown, owners didn’t know what their business levels would look like once the lodging industry was allowed to reopen in June.
“Even if lodging companies would have wanted to bring people back, it was hard to do the math to understand what kind of staffing needs we were going to require to get through the summer,” Babich said.
Babich said he has heard that several larger local lodging companies are still having staffing issues because people are booking a reservation only a week or two before their stays. That can cause problems with the planning process if, say, reservations for a certain week double within a short period of time and not enough staff is available. He noted that there is also confusion about how much staff will be needed this winter due to uncertainty around the ski season.
Unsurprisingly, high unemployment and uncertainty about the future has led to mental health struggles in the community. Jennifer McAtamney, executive director of Building Hope, said unemployment has been damaging for people in the community both emotionally and economically. She said that no matter the circumstances, unemployment is a devastating piece of news because jobs are what enable residents to stay in the community.
“Having that security blanket taken out from under you, even in a pandemic where it is happening to other people, is still a hugely isolating and stunning blow to folks no matter who you are,” McAtamney said.
McAtamney said Building Hope has seen a huge increase in demand. The organization offers mental health scholarships, and McAtamney said demand for those has increased dramatically — more than doubling — since May.
“It’s pretty staggering,” McAtamney said about the demand for mental health services. “That is really a reflection of how bleak it is out there for folks and that there’s really more people than ever that need some extra help and some extra support.”
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