Good news for area’s jobless rate

PHOENIX — The state’s jobless rate dropped a healthy three-tenths of a point last month.

New figures from the Office of Economic Opportunity put the seasonally adjusted unemployment rate for October at 5.2 percent. That’s as low as it’s been since June 2008.

Spurring that growth was the gain of 50,400 new jobs in the past year.

On the other side of the equation, Doug Walls, the agency’s research administrator, said the number of Arizonans collecting unemployment last month was 28,421. That’s down by about 1,300 from the same time a year earlier.

And it is far below the more than 100,000 who were collecting jobless benefits in October 2009.

In Prescott, Economic Initiatives Director Jeff Burt says the community’s unemployment has been dropping consistently over the past five years or so. Currently, he said, the rate stands at about 4.8 percent – down significantly from the 11.2 percent that the community was experiencing in January 2011, at the peak of the recession.

Although the community’s employment experienced some ups and downs along the way, Burt said, “It’s been trending down for four or five years.” The good news with the October 2016 numbers is that “the trend line has continued,” he added.

Despite some discussion that job growth is slowing down, Burt said, “I tend to think it’s leveling out. The key will be, if we stay at those low numbers, how that might impact the wage rate and inflation.”

Month over month statewide, Yuma County showed the strongest growth at 1.9 percent. Walls said that’s directly related to the area’s agricultural industry.

The employment statistics do not measure farm labor.

But Walls said they do measure ancillary services like warehouses and packing plants. And he said there’s a ripple effect of more people working on farms, as they need other services.

On an annual basis, Walls said Yavapai County topped the list at a 4.8 percent growth rate.

That was led by a 7 percent increase in health care and private education. But Walls said he could not cite a specific reason for the jump in employment.

Alexandria Wright, director of the Yavapai College Regional Economic Development Center, says a number of specific sectors have shown significant “year over year” growth.

For instance, she pointed to the professional scientific and technical category, which is up by about 21 percent since 2015. Noting that the category logged “the largest growth we’ve seen,” Wright said 523 of the professional scientific and technical jobs were added in Yavapai County in the past year.

“Those are well-paying jobs,” she said, noting that the average salary in the category is nearly $45,000. “We want to keep those jobs here.”

Other growth categories in Yavapai County include administrative services (20 percent in the past year); food manufacturing (25 percent); waste management and remediation (23 percent); and wood product manufacturing (17 percent).

Wright, who said the information came from the Arizona Department of Administration’s Employment and Population Statistics Department, said the latest job numbers represent “an excellent sign for Yavapai County.”

Overall, Walls said there was the expected increase in leisure and hospitality employment as firms began hiring to deal with the influx of winter visitors.

One big area of employment gain was among firms that run temporary employment agencies. Walls said this reflects a change in the economy, both locally and nationally, toward e-commerce, with these companies operating huge warehouses to deal with seasonal buying.

But Walls said there’s another side to that coin. He said the increase in employment by traditional retail stores was just 0.6 percent over the same time last year.

Daily Courier reporter Cindy Barks contributed to this story.