Arizona jobless rate jumps to 8 percent (updated) - East Valley Tribune: Business

Arizona jobless rate jumps to 8 percent (updated)

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Posted: Friday, July 19, 2013 1:15 pm | Updated: 10:53 pm, Wed Jul 31, 2013.

The state's jobless rate shot up two-tenths of a point last month, to 8.0 percent, driven largely by higher than expected seasonal layoffs in education.

Arizona lost 1,000 jobs in the private sector between May and June. But Aruna Murthy, director of economic analysis for the state Department of Administration, said that's actually good news.

She said such a drop is not unusual at this time of the year. In fact, the 10-year average is a loss of 4,000 jobs.

What skewed the numbers is losing 34,800 jobs in local education and another 11,100 jobs in state education. Murthy said while this sector of the economy also loses jobs in June, as non-professional staff like cafeteria workers, custodians and bus drivers, are laid off for the summer, this year's figures are particularly high.

Whether that trend continues remains to be seen. But overall local education employment in June is 6,600 below what it was at the same time a year earlier.

Arizona's jump in the employment rate comes as the national figure last month remained at 7.6 percent.

Overall the state's private sector economy was a mixed bag.

Employment in wholesale trade, things like warehouse workers, rose sharply, adding 3,100 jobs.

Retail employment also was up by about 2,800. But Murthy noted much of that is being driven by people being hired by car dealers.

"People are buying cars,'' she said.

That trend also has been reflected in sales tax data gathered by the state Department of Revenue. And economist Dennis Hoffman of the W.P. Carey School of Business at Arizona State University said that reflects a pent-up demand for vehicles following the recession.

But Murthy cautioned that trend might not continue.

She said there are indications interest rates are increasing. And that could put the monthly payments out of range of some.

At the other end of the spectrum, department stores and other general merchandise retailers are continuing to shed workers, dropping 400 between May and June. Employment in this sector is 1,100 below June 2012.

Some of that, Murthy said, might be traced to an increasing number of Arizonans making purchases on the Internet and no longer shopping at local retailers. But she said changing technology also may play a role.

A prime example is that many stores have gone to self-checkout systems, with the customers scanning and bagging their own items.

"So the number of people being hired in retail stores are fewer,'' Murthy said.

Elsewhere in the economy, construction employment dropped by 500. But there are still signs of recovery, with the overall number of people working these jobs up 9,900 from a year ago.

Employment in health care also continues to increase, up 1,400 from May and 7,300 since last year.

But, not surprisingly for June, there are fewer people working in bars and restaurants than there were the month before. Still, overall employment is up 9,500 year over year.

One unusual number comes from Coconino County.

It added 1,900 jobs between May and June. But Murthy said that includes about 1,000 jobs she said are attributable to the opening of the Twin Arrow Navajo Casino outside of Flagstaff.

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