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2:38 AM Fri, Oct. 19th

Unemployment up to 5.8% ... or is it?

Arizona’s seasonally adjusted unemployment rate for June is 5.8 percent, up two-tenths of a point over the prior month and four-tenths of a point over where it was in March. The report shows the state lost 39,700 jobs between May and June. Most of those were in local education, with the state counting public school employees not on contract as unemployed when school is out.

Arizona’s seasonally adjusted unemployment rate for June is 5.8 percent, up two-tenths of a point over the prior month and four-tenths of a point over where it was in March. The report shows the state lost 39,700 jobs between May and June. Most of those were in local education, with the state counting public school employees not on contract as unemployed when school is out.

PHOENIX - The state’s jobless rate is up for the third month in a row.

But the economist for the state whose job it is to report the numbers insists, in essence, that there’s nothing to see here.

Doug Walls, research administrator for the state Department of Administration, does not dispute the seasonally adjusted unemployment rate for June is 5.8 percent. That’s up two-tenths of a point over the prior month and four-tenths of a point over where it was in March.

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Arizona unemployment rates by county

Walls said, however, he prefers to look at things on a more long-term basis, meaning year over year.

Even using that as a touchstone, though, the jobless rate is now just two-tenths of a point away from where it was a year earlier.

But Walls said the unemployment numbers are based on a household survey, asking people whether they are employed and, if not, if they’re looking for work. He prefers to focus on a separate survey of businesses which asks them how many people they had on the payroll last month.

On one hand, that report shows the state lost 39,700 jobs between May and June. But most of those were in local education, with the state counting public school employees not on contract as unemployed when school is out.

Private sector employment gained only 100 jobs. Still, that’s better than most June reports when private firms normally shed workers.

That report from employers does show the number of people working in the private sector up by 83,000 since June 2015. And Walls said that 3.8 percent growth rate is double the national average.

Thursday’s report of the third straight month of rising unemployment drew essentially the same response from the governor’s office as it did from Walls: Pay no attention to the numbers. In fact, spokesman Daniel Ruiz, responding to questions about the report, does not even address the 5.8 percent jobless rate.

“Gov. Ducey has been clear from Day One that when it comes to our economy and employment, his focus is on continuous improvement,” Ruiz said. “And that’s what we’re seeing across the board - movement in the right direction.”

And Ruiz cites Chief Executive Magazine naming Arizona the sixth best state in the country to do business and Kiplinger ranking Arizona No. 2 in the U.S. for job growth.

“Arizona has a positive story to tell, and there’s no shortage of evidence to back it up,” the statement reads.

That stands in sharp contrast to January when the governor’s office issued a press release citing the “continuing positive trend in Arizona employment.” That’s when the jobless rate finally fell to 5.8 percent, the same as the latest announced numbers.

“This report says a lot about the direction of our state,” the governor said in in that prepared statement about the unemployment drop. “And it’s the latest validation that Arizona is, in fact, on the rise.”

The brightest spot in Thursday’s report - at least from the data provided by employers - continues to be the state’s healthcare sector.

Fueled by an aging population, health care employment was the lone sector of the economy that never really took a dive during the recession. And in the past year alone it added 12,300 workers.

Employment in professional and business services is up by 16,800 workers from a year ago. That includes 5,400 people in employment services, mainly temporary help.

The household survey, however, paints a somewhat different picture.

It shows the total workforce - the number of people working or looking for work - is up between May and June by 6,100.

That includes not just people moving into the state but also new graduates looking for work. And the increased number also can reflect those who had dropped out of the workforce, perhaps because they stopped looking, but now again want work.

But the jobs are not there: The report shows total employment in June down by 17,000, even as the number of people who say they’re looking for work but can’t find it is up by 23,100.

Economist Dennis Hoffman of the W.P. Carey School of Business at Arizona State University said he’s not concerned.