Summit unemployment rate drops as residents piece work life back together

A customer places an order Sept. 1 at Yo Mommas Tacos Y Burritos in Breckenridge. The county unemployment rate is declining, but service industry professionals say staffing continues to pose a challenge in Summit County.
Photo by Taylor Sienkiewicz /

DILLON — Unemployment hit a record peak in Summit County during the business shutdown in April, but the rate continues to fall at a decent pace — down to 8.1% in August from its peak of 21.6% in April — as families are piecing their work life back together.

At the peak of the shutdown in April, the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment recorded a whopping 21.6% unemployment rate in Summit County, where more than 5,000 people were registered as unemployed. This was the highest rate of unemployment ever recorded in Summit County since labor and employment records began in 1990. The most recent report of unemployment was for August, which sits at an 8.1% unemployment rate. While a significant drop, the county still hasn’t seen the unemployment rate reach 8% since May 2012.

As of Tuesday, Oct. 6, there were 1,154 job openings in Summit County advertised online, and the service industry, in particular, continues to struggle with hiring.

Vail Resorts has about 200 job openings. When asked about staffing, Keystone Resort spokesperson Loryn Roberson wrote in an email that the resort has a good base of seasonal employees to open the resort this year and has found interest among students who have more flexibility with online learning or college deferral. 

Brianne Snow, executive director of the Family & Intercultural Resource Center, said that while going back to work was difficult for families this summer because child care was an issue, school being in session and after-school programs have helped. Snow said families have gotten creative with child care for younger students, particularly on days when school is online. 

“People are doing what they have to do in order to make ends meet, and so sometimes older kids are left with younger kids and neighbors swap, or parents take turns with their schedules to make sure that somebody’s home,” Snow said. “And with the absence of after-school programs like CATCH, parents are still not fully able to do what they need to do for their employment. It’s definitely better, but there is still a struggle.” 

Snow said the majority of the resource center’s clients are back to work in some capacity, but their hours and income are still lower than before. 

“I don’t think people’s income is quite comparable yet to pre-COVID, but certainly we are at least seeing some income coming in, so I’m grateful for that,” Snow said.

The issue is not a lack of jobs, Snow said, but matching up employment opportunities with people’s schedules, such as a family’s child care needs. She added that people are concerned about the offseason. Despite a profitable summer, people were behind on their finances from spring and are still working to catch up, she said.

Joanne Sprouse, director of Summit County human services, said needs for programs like Medicaid and food assistance were up in September but are trending down in October. Sprouse said that if someone is receiving unemployment benefits, they are likely over the income threshold to qualify for human services programs.

“If they’re not coming into our office … and not getting unemployment, then that’s a good sign for the county,” Sprouse said, as this could mean more people are employed. 

Sprouse noted that unlike services at the Family & Intercultural Resource Center, Summit County residents who are undocumented don’t qualify for human services programs, so it might not always reflect community trends accurately. 

Charlie Rhodes, managing partner of Yo Mommas Tacos Y Burritos and Yo Mommas Cantina said that despite the high unemployment level, there hasn’t been a huge change in the hiring and staffing process, something that always has been difficult for restaurants. 

“People tend to come and go as they please,” Rhodes said. “… So to be honest, even with COVID, it didn’t feel too much different than what it was (like) managing before that. It’s always tough to staff up here. I guess it’s probably gotten a little bit tougher, but I think especially with kitchen staff, it’s always been kind of that beast.”

Rhodes said the restaurant hasn’t seen many people coming in to apply for a job and that the businesses mainly have had to actively search for employees.

Phil Armstrong — owner of Destination Hospitality, the parent company of Aurum Food & Wine in Breckenridge — echoed Rhodes’ sentiments. Armstrong thought that as people started getting back to work, hiring would be easier. That hasn’t been the case. 

“We thought that we were going to see a big ease in hiring because a lot of the jobs were going to be eliminated,” Armstrong said. “And the fact that our markets were doing really well, we thought that suddenly hiring would be easier. And I don’t know that I’ve found that because I think, through COVID and the quarantine and the closures, a lot of people that would typically work in a restaurant, be a J-1 visa or a snowboarder or skier, a lot of those people left town.”

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