Far more times than are comfortable to count, Coloradans were asked what they had to be thankful for on Thanksgiving past. To most, the answer was simple — a job. In a time of economic uncertainty, they were thankful just to be working. But to others, according to the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment, that was not their answer.
Perhaps, among this group, the answer was their health, maybe it was friends or family. But for 8.4 percent of the state’s workforce, it would have been nice — an early Christmas gift — to answer that they were thankful that they had a job. But they couldn’t. They are the 8.4 percent of Colorado’s workforce that is out of work.
Not only did 8.4 percent of Colorado workers not have a job this Thanksgiving, but the number of unemployed in the state was higher than the previous month by two tenths of a percent. It was also more than a percentage point higher than last year at the same time. Still, Colorado’s Executive Director of Labor and Employment remains optimistic that the state’s jobless picture has bottomed out. “Despite mixed results in the employment numbers, there are encouraging signs of improvement including recent increases in online job postings,” said Donald (Don) J. Mares.
Indeed, while the state’s unemployment picture might look challenging with nearly eight and a half percent unemployment, that still means that more than ninety percent of the workforce has a job. That is good news for everyone, including Latinos who make up slightly more than twenty percent of the state’s population.
“We’re inching back,” said Wayne Hicks of the Denver Business Journal, a paper that tracks the ups and downs of Denver area businesses. But the companies that seem most poised for a total recovery, or at least a decent recovery, from the state’s deepest recession in generations, Hicks says, are those who build on a diverse workforce. “Anytime you have a diverse workforce you’re going to have larger pool of experiences,” in your people, he said. And with the changing demographics of Colorado and the country, and Hispanics making up a larger portion of the population, that is important.
Denver’s largest employers, including Kroger (King Soopers), Qwest, Centura Health, Safeway and Health One employ nearly 63,000 workers. Kroger and Qwest employ nearly half that number. The state’s largest in-state employer is the state of Colorado, which has slightly more than 25,500 workers spread out over all 64 counties on the payroll. Because of the economic downturn, it enacted a hiring freeze more than a year ago, which remains in effect. Gov. Bill Ritter also designated eight furlough days in the last fiscal year, which ended in October. None is foreseen over the next twelve months.
Hispanics represent about twenty percent of the slightly more than five million people living in Colorado, according to the U.S. Census. In this group, there are approximately 442,000 workers. Like the rest of the population, most work in government jobs at the local, state or federal level. In fact, government---at all levels---employs more than 400,000 workers in the state. In El Paso County, in addition to military personnel, government provides a paycheck to more than 52,000 people. Four military installations including the Air Force Academy, Fort Carson, Petersen and Schriever Air Force Bases are located in Colorado Springs.
But the state’s largest private employers, including companies like Miller-Coors, Comcast, Verizon, Qwest, Swift Meats and Level 3 also have substantial workforces and each has a good number of Hispanic workers on their payrolls.
“Denver is on the cutting edge in this area (diversity),” said Janet Fritz, Director of Marketing for the Greater Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce. It is Fritz job to answer questions and sell the city to individuals as well as prospective companies who may be considering relocation to Denver. Diversity is one of the strongest selling points. “All types of diversity are important,” she said. “It brings creativity, new ideas and so much more to the workplace.”
Because of the image of the city in some people’s mind, people who only know it through magazine pictures or old movies, the diverse population of Denver sometimes comes as a surprise. But when one out of three people on the streets of Denver each business day is Hispanic, diversity becomes an important variable in selling a 21st century city. “I think people need to know about it,” said Fritz. “In a time when ethnic cultures are growing or migrating, it’s very important.”