Number of employed Arizonans higher than a year ago - East Valley Tribune: Arizona

Number of employed Arizonans higher than a year ago

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Posted: Thursday, October 21, 2010 3:57 pm | Updated: 1:22 pm, Thu Oct 28, 2010.

It looks like Arizona has finally stopped losing jobs.

The number of people working in the state last month actually is slightly higher than those employed a year earlier. That is the first time the state Department of Commerce has found such a year-over-year change in nearly three years.

Aruna Murthy, the agency's director of economic analysis, said Thursday that revised employment numbers for August show the breakthrough might actually have been made at that time. But she said the new figures confirm that the negative numbers which have been showing up since February 2008 are finally gone.

Maybe.

"It's a very, very tender shoot," Murthy said using an agricultural comparison. She said that while the trend lines appear to be heading in one direction, it is possible the numbers could slip back into negative territory.

One thing that is likely to change - and not for the better - is the unemployment rate. And that, Murthy said, can occur even if the state continues to add jobs.

That has to do with the way those figures are computed.

The Commerce Department does a survey of people asking them if they are working and, if not, are they looking.

What often happens during a recession is some people without jobs become discouraged and stop looking. At that point, they're not part of the workforce and therefore not considered "unemployed."

Murthy said the situation reverses when companies start hiring.

"New people are looking for work, entering the labor force," she said. But until they get that work, they now count as unemployed.

That figure stood in September at 9.7 percent, the same as the month before. The low point was in April 2007, shortly before the recession started, when the rate dropped to just 3.7 percent.

Murthy said the leisure and hospitality sector of the economy remains week.

Of particular note, she said, is employment in bars and restaurants. And Murthy said that's not likely to improve until the overall economy picks up.

"It's more got to do with the recession than anything else," she said. "I think people need jobs to go out and eat and spend."

One other micro-segment of the economy also has taken a sharp drop: the number of people employed selling furniture and home furnishings. Employment in this business is down more than 5 percent between August and September - and down more than 20 percent from the same time last year.

"It's a durable good," Murthy said. "It's the last thing people will go to buy."

She also said that furniture sales are linked to the purchases of new homes, something that has remained soft.

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