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Colorado’s unemployment rate fell to 6.2% in May, breaking a three-month logjam when the rate was stuck at 6.4% and reaching the lowest level since March 2020, when the COVID-19 pandemic triggered widespread restrictions on businesses.

Nearly four times as many people found jobs last month as returned to or entered the job market, reducing the number of people looking for work by nearly 6,000, according to the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment. However, the state’s jobless rate remains more than double the record low of 2.5% in reached in late 2019 and nearly 200,000 people in Colorado were unemployed in May. Colorado’s unemployment rate was higher than the 5.8% nationwide rate for May.

Unemployment rates in Colorado’s metro areas dropped sharply with Colorado Springs falling from 6.4% in April to 5.8% in May and Denver declining from 6.4% to 5.9% during the same period. In both cases, many more people found jobs than rejoined or entered the job market. Boulder had the state’s lowest jobless rate among metro areas at 4.7%, while Pueblo had the highest at 8%.

The unemployment numbers come from a survey of households; a separate larger survey of businesses had even better news with the state adding more than 17,000 jobs for the second consecutive month. More than 80% of those jobs were in hotels and restaurants.

Trade, transportation, utilities and business and professional services also added thousands of positions.

Ryan Gedney, the department’s senior economist, attributed the gains to widespread hiring by restaurants as newly vaccinated Coloradans returned to eateries in droves in the wake of the state dropping most restrictions that had been in place to slow the spread of the pandemic. Many restaurant owners said in recent months they were struggling to fill job openings to meet the surge in customer demand.

Gedney said the higher growth in payroll jobs may mean that the unemployment rate could be revised downward substantially for March when information from quarterly employer unemployment insurance reports updates the survey data.

Colorado remains about 110,000 jobs below its January 2020 peak of 2.82 million payroll jobs. But Gedney said the state could regain all of the 375,000 jobs it lost in the pandemic by year’s end if job growth continues at the current rate of about 16,000 jobs each month.

The Colorado Springs area added 3,100 payroll jobs in May, putting the area just 4,500 jobs below the record total of January 2020. The area added more than 6,000 jobs in March and April, and remained on track to regain all 38,000 jobs lost during the pandemic by next month, should job growth continue at the current rate. More than half of the Colorado Springs area jobs were added by the hotel and restaurant industries. Other large gains were recorded in the construction and business and professional services sectors.

Denver still remains 64,000 jobs below its peak employment of 1.55 million set in February 2020 and is adding nearly 9,000 jobs a month so far this year. At that rate, the state’s largest city would recover all 200,000 jobs lost during the pandemic by early next year.

Most of Denver’s job gains have also been in hotels and restaurants along with the business and professional services sector.

This content was originally published here.