Kim Kavanagh moved to Colorado from Chicago in 2012. Now, eight years later, she is probably going to have to leave.
Kavanagh is one of many in Larimer County who lost their jobs due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Unemployment in Larimer County and the rest of the State
In July, Colorado saw a drop in unemployment rate, going from 12.2% in April to 7.4% at the end of July. However, this is still nearly triple what the rate was in February, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
The Denver Post reported in June that Karl Kuykendall, associate director of regional economics with IH Markit, which provides economic and industry-level forecasts and data, estimates Colorado’s employment count will be 460,000 jobs lighter at the start of next year than it was before the pandemic. Colorado saw a drop of nearly 200,000 nonfarm jobs compared with last year according to the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment.
Larimer County currently stands at a 6.2% unemployment rate according to the Colorado Department of Labor and Economics, with nearly 5,000 job openings advertised online. However, some of the highest number of openings come from UCHealth, The Evangelical Lutheran Good Samaritan Society and companies like Lowe’s and DoorDash.
Comparatively, Larimer County is seeing a much smaller unemployment rate than other Colorado counties. Among the top 10 Colorado counties based on population size, Larimer County has the second lowest unemployment rate, ranking just below Douglas County which has a rate of 5.8%. Denver County currently has the highest unemployment rate, reaching above the state total at 8.8%.
Adam Crowe, economic development manager with the Larimer County Economic and Workforce Development office, said that since the start of the pandemic, unemployment rates have seen a number of changes throughout the county.
Crowe said that, in March, Larimer County saw unemployment much like the rest of the country did as shutdowns took over businesses in the area. But, as time went on, that started to change and jobs slowly started to come back. He added, however, that while the county saw unemployment rates drop, it also saw work participation rates dropping.
“Typically we see these rates work counter to each other, so work participation will go up as unemployment goes down and vice versa,” Crowe said. “However we are seeing both move in the same direction.”
Work participation is defined as the section of working population in the age group of 16-64 in the economy currently employed or seeking employment. Participation rate refers to the total number of people or individuals who are currently employed or in search of a job.
This is happening, Crowe said, for a number of reasons, including people having to work from home with children. He also said that while rates are getting better, it is not back to what it was before.
“Unemployment rates aren’t back to what they were before the pandemic (and) it is going to be quite some time before we get there,” Crowe said. “It is going to be quite some time until our economy fully recovers. And that is difficult for employers and employees.”
“I am in my 50s and it is hard to start over at this point.”
This is something Kavanagh, who worked for a software implementation company in Fort Collins, recognized as her company dealt with the pandemic. She said she knew that the pandemic was going to get worse before it got better, but wasn’t expecting to lose her job as her team went completely online for work in mid-March.
“I didn’t think much of it at that time, but as we progressed I was implementing a specific piece of software that related to employee hiring so I was implementing a background screening product,” Kavanagh said. “As people aren’t hiring and they are not doing background screens, they are not placing orders and the revenue for the organization was down.”
Kavanagh said that soon after this, employees received an email from the company’s CEO saying that, even though he didn’t want to, he was probably going to have to lay people off. This was another thing that Kavanagh didn’t really think about, as the project count that she and her coworkers had was picking up, rising from a normal project load of 35-40 projects to 70 projects.
“I was really optimistic that things were moving forward because we were so busy,” Kavanagh said, adding that she also was cross-trained for other projects and offered to volunteer to help in other areas to keep learning. “So when I got the call on June 1 that (I was) being furloughed, I was really surprised.”
The plan, Kavanagh said, was for her to be furloughed from June 1 until Aug. 1 when she could come back, a plan she fully expected to happen based on her workload. She had no choice but to pass off her work to her colleagues, piling more on their already large list of projects to work on.
But in late July, Kavanagh received an email setting up a time to meet with her senior managers and human resources. It was during that call that she was laid off.
“Working in HR, it is pretty obvious when things are not going the way you want them to,” Kavanagh said. “I recognized the writing on the wall pretty quickly.”
Kavanagh said that the company’s human resources department made unilateral decisions without talking to line managers about who they were planning on laying off.
“It was really disappointing,” Kavanagh said. “I am in my 50s and it is hard to start over at this point, especially during these trying times.”
Where do we go from here?
Crowe said that recovery within the county is going to affect people differently, adding that it is hard to say when we have “hit bottom” since we are still seeing fluctuations in how unemployment has looked.
For smaller businesses and local economies within Larimer County, Crowe said that a big aspect to the recovery of the economy comes with the fear that the community feels regarding the pandemic.
“I think there is no real way to say when our local economy or our national economy is starting to recover because we don’t have a lot of those fears nor a lot of the spread of COVID-19 under control,” Crowe said.
He added, however, that as far as Larimer County goes, economic recovery has gone smoother than other counties because of how community members have responded to public health guidelines.
Laura Levy, who was hired as pandemic recovery manager through a partnership of Larimer County and United Way, said that the recovery efforts in the county have taken a number of approaches for those suffering financially.
“We are looking both at the short term and we are looking down the road six months, a year, two years, three years to develop a plan so we can really make our region whole again,” Levy said.
Levy added that for businesses to be able to proceed in the long term, the biggest change comes in the entire functionality of those businesses.
“It really is going to take flexibility and adaptation to be able to constrain to the restraints of the new normal,” Levy said. “We have to be creative, because we all believe we will be dealing with this virus for an extended period of time…Businesses have to adapt to that, and it is not an easy thing to do.”
In the short term, Levy said that the county is still working out exact plans, as we have never seen anything like this before.
“It is not a playbook you can just pull off the shelf,” Levy said. “For the next at least six months we are still going to be in this precursor to the recovery, where we are still responding to make sure we keep infection rates down and keep our businesses open, while looking ahead.”
With many job openings coming from hospitals or typically part-time work, some in Larimer County, like Kavanagh, are finding it more difficult to find work. And in some cases they have no choice but to leave.
Kavanagh said that, right now, it is looking like she is going to have to move out of the state to find a job that fits her skill set.
“There seems to be a lot of jobs out there but not a lot of movement on them,” Kavanagh said. “If I could find a job here that would pay the bills, yeah I would (stay). But I don’t think there is anything.”