Jerry Kopel

How are we doing, economically? Well, compared to what? If compared to 2000 and 2001 Colorado is doing "lousy". But are we doing slightly better than in 2003? Yes. At least that's the opinion of the 2004 Source Book published by Governing Magazine.

Each year, Source Book compares states on a number of issues. When we do well on economic momentum, the governor's office sends out press releases. I don't think you'll see one this year.

We continue to have pretty good incomes, our unemployment rates are below the national average, a good portion of Coloradoans have jobs, but we have lost ground in gaining employees.

Colorado is far down the list on the Index of Economic Momentum. The index averages the most recent one-year changes in employment, personal income and population and relates each state's performance to a national average set at zero. For example, Nevada ranks first with an index number of 2.8. Colorado is tied with Kansas and Arkansas for 35th to 37th on a minus index of 0.1. But that is better than 2003, when our ranking was 40th.

In 2000, Colorado's index was 3.2. We were the No. 1 state, with Nevada as runner-up. In 2001, Colorado's index was 1.7, and we were second in the nation, just below Nevada.

On personal income, Colorado is doing well in 2004 with an average of $34,283. That places us eighth in the nation, and nearly $3,000 above the national average

But we didn't gain new employees for 2003-2004. Colorado ranked 46th with a minus 0.4 loss of workers. The best state was Nevada which had a 4.1 percent increase, followed by Virginia and Arizona. On the brighter side, if you look at a longer period of employment increases between 1999-2004, Colorado gained 1.6 percent which puts us 27th in the nation.

Our unemployment rate is 4.9. That places us below the national average of 5.7 and in a tie for 21st to 24th. The worst state in the nation is Oregon with a 7.2 percent unemployment rate. We do well under "labor forces as percentage of population" with 54.6, a rating of 10th highest in the nation. The top state is Minnesota with 58.4 percent.

One very good note. We are third following Massachusetts and California in science and technology criteria, including research and development imputs, risk capital, human capital investment, and workforce.

How about state and local government employees? Conservatives might be surprised that Colorado, which has grown in population since 1999, has also grown from 79,400 state employees in 1999 to 84,300 in 2004. That is 185 state employees per 10,000 population, which still ranks us fairly low, despite 5,000 more employees, as 32d in the U.S.

For each 10,000 of population, would you believe Florida is No. 50 with 124 state employees and Hawaii is at the top with 577 state employees?

In local government employees, Colorado went from 197,100 in 1999 to 224,000 in 2004. That increase was the ninth greatest in the country on employees per 10,000 population.

Combining local and state government employees, Colorado had nearly 32,000 more government employees in 2004 than in 1999. But there is a good side to this news. For 2004, we only gained 100 new state employees over 2003 and we lost 7,000 local government employees compared to 2003.

(Jerry Kopel served 22 years in the Colorado House.)

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