Jobless rate drops a littleBy Howard Fischer
Capitol Media Services
PHOENIX The number of people working in Arizona last month picked up a bit.
But the state's jobless rate jumped four-tenths of a percent, hitting 7.4 percent.
And there's nothing necessarily inconsistent about that, according to Dennis Doby. He's the senior director of research administration which compiles -- and explains -- those figures.
It starts, he said, with the fact that the numbers are gathered in two different ways.
The first is a survey of employers asking how many people are working for them. That survey, Doby said, showed the number of employees is up by 2,100 between January and February.
But the unemployment rate itself is based on a different survey, this one asking people if they are employed and, if not, are they actively looking for work. That latter number becomes the unemployment rate.
One possibility, Doby said, is that people without jobs are moving here from other states at a faster rate than jobs are being created. They then count among the ranks of the unemployed.
But there are other potential reasons.
"Is it possibly households need another source of income and somebody that was in the household that hadn't bothered to look for a job before is out there now looking for at least a parttime job to help supplement the household income?'' he speculated. That would make these people, who were not part of the workforce the prior month, now among the unemployed.
"It's any number of factors that could be in play here.''
The 7.4 percent statewide jobless rate for February compares with a 4.5 percent figure a year earlier.
The month-over-month jobless rate increase was even greater in the state's two major metro areas.
For the Phoenix area, which includes Maricopa and Pinal counties, the month-over-month increase was sixtenths of a point, to 6.7 percent. The February 2008 figure was just 3.7 percent.
Pima County posted an identical 0.6 point increase to 6.6 percent.
Arizona's beleaguered construction industry continues to find the bottom, dropping another 5,500 jobs between January and February. The yearoveryear losses there now total 52,400.
Retail trade employment also continues to weaken as Arizonans are keeping their cash, checkbooks and credit cards in their pockets. Another 3,600 jobs were lost in February; employment in this sector is down by 31,100 from the same time a year earlier.
There were some bright spots, relatively speaking, in the latest report.
For example, the leisure and hospitality industry picked up 2,000 jobs, led largely by 1,300 new workers in restaurants and bars. But Dennis Doby, senior research administrator for the Department of Commerce, pointed out that employment in the accommodation and food service industries is still 13,400 below the same period a year earlier.
Doby said he continues to believe that Arizona is headed toward at least an 8 percent unemployment rate.
He said it is very rare that the state jobless rate does not eventually catch up with or at least come close to the federal figure. And the national rate in February already hit 8.1 percent.
"We may not hit 8 percent in Arizona for a couple of months,'' he said, pointing out the 0.4 point increase this past month and an identical jump the month before. "At that rate, it's going to take us another two months before we hit 8 percent, if that's the norm for now.''
Doby separately analyzed last year's data and noted that the percentage of jobs lost in Arizona last year was the fourth highest in the entire country. Only Rhode Island, Michigan and Florida had higher rates of job losses.
Seasonally adjusted unemployment rate:
Area Feb. 09 Jan. 09 Feb. 08
United States 8.1% 7.6% 4.8%
Arizona 7.4% 7.0% 4.5%
Phoenix Metro+ 6.7% 6.1% 3.7%
Apache 13.4% 12.3% 8.9%
Cochise 6.2% 5.5% 4.4%
Coconino 6.3% 5.8% 4.2%
Gila 8.9% 8.0% 4.6%
Graham 11.6% 9.9% 5.1%
Greenlee 11.4% 10.2% 3.3%
La Paz 8.4% 7.4% 5.0%
Maricopa 6.6% 6.0% 3.6%
Mohave 8.6% 8.6% 5.4%
Navajo 12.4% 11.9% 7.5%
Pima 6.6% 6.0% 4.1%
Pinal 9.3% 8.4% 5.1%
Santa Cruz 13.4% 12.5% 8.0%
Yavapai 8.1% 7.2% 4.2%
Yuma 22.5% 21.4% 14.8%
+ Phoenix metro includes both Maricopa and Pinal counties
Source: Arizona Department of Commerce