Travel agents in Colorado, Florida, and Texas can’t find a job, and many can’t even get their licenses.
The state’s tourism industry, which accounts for more than $100 billion annually in economic activity, has struggled for years to attract qualified and trained professionals, and the situation is so dire that the Bureau of Labor Statistics has reported a 30 percent drop in jobless claims since 2013.
That’s the year the industry saw the largest year-over-year decline in unemployment since World War II, the Bureau says.
Travel agents have faced the biggest downturn since the recession, which peaked in 2010, according to a study by the Economic Policy Institute.
That year, the industry employed 1.7 million people, but has been shedding employees at a rate of almost 20,000 a day since the start of the year, according a report by the Center for Immigration Studies.
The problem extends beyond travel agents.
Travel agency workers in Phoenix and San Francisco have had their jobs cut, and even in Colorado Springs, a city that has seen some of the biggest job losses in the nation, many travel agency workers say they are afraid to get back to work.
In a state where nearly 20 percent of adults lack health insurance, a shortage of skilled workers has contributed to the unemployment rate in Colorado climbing to 12.5 percent, according the Bureau.
Travel agents say they’re also being squeezed by high costs.
Travel agency worker Kevin DeSantis, 30, who lives in Denver, is one of thousands of travel agents who say they cannot find a permanent job.
DeSants job is at an agency in Colorado City, about 60 miles south of Denver, where his salary is $17.50 an hour.
DeSantis says he has no choice but to accept his paycheck at the agency.
De Santis has not been paid since the summer, he said, when he quit his job at a hotel.
He has no job security, and his wages are all he’s able to afford.
His company, Global Travel, is closing.
The agency is struggling to make ends meet, he says, with no one in charge and no money for his insurance.
De Santis said he has had to take his two children with him to work and hasn’t been able to find another job in a year.
He says he’s trying to find a new job so he can keep his family together.
The Bureau of Economic Analysis reports that the jobless rate for Colorado was 9.1 percent in December.
A recent report by an Arizona-based think tank found that more than a quarter of Colorado workers have taken leave to look for work, including nearly a quarter who said they were looking for full-time work.
The economy has been booming in Colorado for decades, with the unemployment, inflation, and stock market gains fueling the boom.
The state’s economy grew nearly 3 percent in the last year, a historic high, and more than doubled from a year earlier, according for the Bureau’s Economic and Workforce Development report.
Colorado ranked second in the country in job growth in 2015, the bureau said.
The decline in tourism industry jobs has been so acute that the State Tourism Board is recommending that all tourism agency owners hire more people to replace those that have lost their jobs.
But the industry has struggled to recruit qualified and experienced workers to replace the loss of their workers.
Travel agent Brenda McBride, 33, said she has been unable to find her job for more then a year, and has no way to replace lost income.
She is considering starting her own business.
McBride, who works at a travel agency in Boulder, said travel agents should have more training and better job training programs, like ones offered by the American Council of Travel Agents, a group that has grown to more than 50,000 members nationwide.
“I’m not going to have my own job,” McBride said.
“I have to find something else.”
The state also has one of the highest state and local unemployment rates in the United States.
In 2016, the national unemployment rate was 8.3 percent.
The national rate was 6.7 percent in July.
The unemployment rate for workers in Colorado is 7.2 percent.
State Rep. Mark Curd, D-Boulder, introduced legislation in February that would require any business that operates a commercial hotel, convention center, or other facilities to offer a job to every qualified person.
That would provide a safety net for workers who lose their jobs, Curd said.
“This is a major concern for our state’s citizens,” he said.
Curd said he plans to introduce the bill this week to make sure it’s fully funded and passed by the Legislature.
He said the bill could create more jobs and help improve the economy.
The bill is part of a broader effort by Curd to make Colorado a place where the needs of all residents are met.
He’s proposing a bill that would