State Economy Showing Signs of Life Despite Dismal Decade, Says Colorado State University Regional Economist

Note to Reporters: Photo of Martin Shields is available with the news release at

Signs of life in Colorado’s economy emerged in south-central and western Colorado over the past decade, despite substantial job losses and negative effects on nearly every sector of the economy, according to a new report by Colorado State University.

In the report, Colorado State regional economist Martin Shields and research economist Michael Marturana examined Colorado’s economic changes over the past 10 years. The full report, “Did the Great Recession Wipe Out a Decade of Economic Progress in Colorado? Assessing the State of the State’s Economy,” is available at

While the paper lays out the state’s current economic challenges – unemployment and poverty are up and wages are flat – the authors are optimistic about Colorado’s relatively vibrant economy.

“The state’s skilled, creative and talented workforce, and the dynamic and entrepreneurial spirit of its business owners, are incredible assets that can be leveraged by thoughtful investments to provide new, broad-based opportunities,” Shields said. “But Colorado does not have a monopoly on such assets. Competition is global and increasing.”

Data in the report relies largely on Colorado’s Department of Labor and Employment/Labor Market Information, the State Demographer’s Office, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics and the U.S. Census Bureau.

One of the most startling findings of the research, Shields said: After adjusting for inflation, the state’s median household income in 2009 was $55,930 – more than $4,100 less than in 1999, or a 6.8 percent drop.

Other key findings of Colorado State’s research:

• Between 2000 and 2010, the Front Range experienced a 2.5 percent loss in job growth. While management and government industries grew, the gains were offset by substantial manufacturing job losses.

• The Western Slope showed the greatest job growth during the decade – slightly more than 12,200 jobs – because of job increases in mining, government and educational and health care industries.

• Also experiencing growth was the south-central region, which added more than 200 jobs in government, health care and mining even though it experienced the highest unemployment rate in the state over the decade. The region is defined in the report as Alamosa, Conejos, Costilla, Huerfano, Las Animas, Mineral, Rio Grande and Saguache counties.

• Per capita income ranking climbed from 19th highest in 1990 to seventh in 2000 with an unemployment rate of 3.1 percent as of January 2000. By 2009, the state dropped to 16th nationally in per-capita income terms.

• Since the start of the recession in December 2007, the state lost more than 126,000 jobs. As of January, unemployment stood at 9.1 percent.

• Among the industries that lost the most jobs were specialty trade contractors, computer and electronic product manufacturing, telecommunications and publishing – including software – industries. Those that gained the most included educational services, ambulatory health care services, hospitals, professional and technical services and food services.

• The most jobs were lost – 134,000 – between the third quarter of 2007 and the second quarter of 2010.

“Growth in health care and education are not surprising as more people leads to greater demand,” Marturana said of the service industries that have grown. “Professional and technical services also had noteworthy job growth, showing the state’s continued evolution to a high-service economy.”

Shields and Marturana also noted that the increase in the unemployment rate was steepest for those with a high school degree or less – a rate of 16.9 percent in 2010, up from 9.2 percent in 2005. For those with at least a bachelor’s degree, the increase was much less substantial over the five years with the rate climbing less than 1 percent.