Jobless rate drops again; retail boost conspicuously missing

Arizona’s unemployment rate remains higher than the national average of 4.6 percent, a decline of three-tenths of a point from October.

Courier file photo

Arizona’s unemployment rate remains higher than the national average of 4.6 percent, a decline of three-tenths of a point from October.

Unemployment rates

(not seasonally adjusted unless otherwise stated)

Area / November / October 2016 / November 2015

Arizona (seas adj) / 5.0% / 5.2% / 5.9%

Arizona / 4.7% / 5.2% / 5.6%

U.S. (seas adj) / 4.6% / 4.9% / 5.0%

Apache / 10.2% / 11.0% / 12.1%

Cochise / 5.5% / 5.9% / 6.8%

Coconino / 5.5% / 5.7% / 6.2%

Gila / 6.6% / 7.1% / 7.6%

Graham / 5.6% / 6.2% / 7.0%

Greenlee / 6.0% / 6.7% / 8.1%

La Paz / 5.5% / 5.6% / 7.0%

Maricopa / 4.1% / 4.4% / 4.8%

Mohave / 5.8% / 6.3% / 7.5%

Navajo / 7.2% / 7.6% / 8.8%

Pima / 4.3% / 4.8% / 5.2%

Pinal / 5.3% / 5.8% / 5.8%

Santa Cruz / 9.1% / 11.7% / 11.1%

Yavapai / 4.3% / 4.5% / 5.1%

Yuma / 16.7% / 19.4% / 19.3%

Source: Arizona Office of Economic Opportunity

Sector employment in 1,000s

Sector / November 2016 / Change in last month / Change in last year

Total nonfarm / 2,746.9 / 16.8 / 29.9

Private sector / 2,324.9 / 15.8 / 32.1

Manufacturing / 158.3 / 0.7 / (-2.1)

Natural resources & mining / 12.0 / 0.0 / 0.1

Construction / 136.7 / (-2.6) / 4.8

Trade, transportation, utilities / 529.0 / 9.8 / 1.7

Information/ 47.3 / (-0.3) / 0.8

Financial activities / 205.0 / (-0.2) / 7.0

Professional & business services / 414.9 / 5.2 / 0.5

Private education & health services / 421.4 / (-0.1) / 12.0

Leisure & hospitality / 314.5 / 5.0 / 10.7

Other services / 85.3 / (-1.7) / (-3.4)

Government (including public education) / 422.5 / 1.0 / (-2.2)

Source: Arizona Office of Economic Opportunity

PHOENIX – Despite weak job growth last month the state’s jobless rate dropped again to the lowest figure in more than eight years.

With a drop of two-tenths of a point, the seasonally adjusted rate hit 5.0 percent. The last time it was lower was April 2008.

But the state’s unemployment rate still remains higher than the national average of 4.6 percent, a decline of three-tenths of a point from October.

Private sector employment in November grew by just 15,800. That is far below the average gain of 26,300 in November since the end of the recession.

It also shows an overall tepid 1.1 percent year-over-year increase in the number of those working in Arizona for private firms.

Doug Walls, research administrator for the state’s Office of Economic Opportunity, said one reason for the slow growth is disappointing numbers in trade, transportation and utilities, the state’s largest employment sector.

It did pick up 9,800 new employees between October and November. But Walls said that at this time of year retailers should be ramping up even more for Christmas sales. That typically translates out to a gain for this sector of 13,600.

In fact, the situation in the retail sector was so bad that employers actually have fewer workers this November than last year. Walls said this is the first time anyone can recall there has been a year-over-year decrease in retail employment in the run-up to Christmas.

Director of Economic Initiatives for the City of Prescott, Jeff Burt, said employment numbers are generally trending upward since November 2015 for most sectors of the Prescott metropolitan statistical area. This is the time of year when seasonal employment appears in the data, he said, but he has heard no good explanation why that hasn’t been the case this year.

One supposition, Burt said, is that the market for retail improved slowly over the course of the past 18 to 24 months.

“Retailers may have already picked up employee(s) but ultimately grew cautious over the strength of spending for this holiday season, so there wasn’t the usual spike in gains for retail employment,” Burt said.

He expects to see a “pretty good year” in 2017, if the county continues to see the slow but positive economic gains exhibited over the past couple years. “Nevertheless, there are some key unknowns to be accommodated such as interest rates, new minimum wage laws, and a new administration in Washington, D.C.,” he said.

Prescott Valley Town Manager Larry Tarkowski said the local job market is doing very well this holiday season with significant hiring in retail sector.

Sales tax collection numbers indicate sales have exceeded last year’s holiday spending so far, he said. “We don’t have them for month of December, but in the run-up to December we saw a very healthy year-over-year increases,” he said, adding that holiday season figures are tabulated at the end of January.