The state’s jobless rate dropped two-tenths of a percent last month, at least in part because more people will be serving burgers and fries.
New figures released by the state Department of Commerce show the seasonally adjusted unemployment rate at 9.1 percent. The number of people working in May was 2,200 above the prior month.
One sector of the economy that picked up jobs was leisure and hospitality, where there was a net hiring gain in May of 1,700 people. Aruna Murthy, the agency’s director of economic analysis, said that was a surprise, as the decline in the number of tourists this time of year generally means hotels, bars and restaurants are laying people off.
But what also happened in May is that McDonald’s restaurants held nationwide job fairs, hiring 1,300 in Arizona alone.
There also were strong gains in employment in professional and business services. And Murthy said the number of people working for manufacturers, particularly those making durable goods, also went up.
She saw that latter factor as a particularly good sign for the economy.
“People put off the purchase of durable goods for quite a while till they feel they have the money to buy it since it’s not an essential,’’ Murthy said. “With this number continuing to increase, I’m a little bit more optimistic that things will hopefully continue to get better.’’
One thing that could put a damper on the recovery, though, is the refusal of lawmakers to make changes in Arizona law to keep jobless benefits flowing for about 15,000 long-term unemployed.
These individuals who have been out of work for more than 79 weeks got their last checks this week. And the total amount of money involved in the federally funded program is about $3.2 million a week.
Murthy said she could not predict whether the loss of those funds to Arizonans — meaning they will have less to spend — will have ripple effects through the state economy.
She pointed out that there is no precedent to rely on, as there never has been a government-funded program before to provide jobless benefits for up to 99 weeks. “So it’s hard to assess actually what the impact of the continued benefits is,’’ she said.
And maybe, Murthy said, the end to benefits will actually be a boost to the economy.
“I suppose they may go back to the labor force and find a job,’’ she said.
That 9.1 percent jobless rate is the same as the national figure. But Murthy said the numbers actually show the recovery is faster here, where the unemployment rate a year ago was 10 percent, versus 9.6 percent nationally.
“There are jobs being created in Arizona,’’ she said.
“The gain in jobs is not at the rate we would like to see,’’ Murthy continued. “But if you compare it to the recessionary times where month after month we were seeing declines, there were no new jobs being created, and we were seeing losses month after month.’’