PHOENIX -- Two new reports Tuesday show some bumps in the state's recovery from the recession.
One finds that Arizona consumers are spending more, at least in certain areas. But not a lot. The other shows that, for the first time in three years, Arizona is not among the Top 10 states in job growth.
Reports from retailers, released Tuesday by the state Department of Revenue, put total taxable sales at $4.47 billion. That figure comes from reports filed last month which actually reflect sales made in August. That is up 5.2 percent from the same time a year earlier.
But economist Dennis Hoffman from the W.P. Carey School of Business at Arizona State University, said it's hardly a number to cheer about.
"It's OK,'' he said. "It's not gangbusters.''
He said a state such as Arizona should be showing year-over-year growth in the 7 percent range.
The numbers represent more than just an academic exercise.
Close to half of the state budget is built on taxable retail sales. And when these figures lag, so do state revenues -- and the ability of lawmakers to meet the spending demands.
In fact, the staff of the Joint Legislative Budget Committee, which advises state lawmakers, is predicting that, for the entire fiscal year, retail sales will grow just an anemic 3.7 percent.
The job-growth figures come from a separate study by Lee McPheters, also an economist at ASU.
There are signs the state is making some progress at recovery.
Sales at motor-vehicle dealers hit $719.9 million in August. That's 8 percent higher than the same time a year earlier. But it's still far below the $833.8 million figure for August 2005, even with vehicles now costing more than they did back then.
Sales of furniture and other home furnishings increased just 3.1 percent from 2013 and also remain below pre-recession levels. Purchases of clothing and accessories actually dropped by nearly 1.6 percent year over year.
Hoffman said the really shocking number is in the category of residential construction. Total sales there for August tallied $285.5 million. In August 2004, the same category posted $604.7 million in sales. "And that was before the real ratchet-up that we had,'' Hoffman said, with the real estate bubble reaching its peak in 2006 before it burst.
That lack of home construction is reflected in the separate employment report by Lee McPheters, also an economist at ASU. He said that so far this year, the state's already beleaguered construction industry has lost jobs. That sector of the Arizona economy remains at half of what it was before the recession. Manufacturing employment also has shed jobs so far this year.
He did find some bright spots.
For example, for the first nine months of the year, only two states hired a greater percentage of new workers in the health-care field than Arizona. And Arizona is No. 5 for jobs in the financial sector. But that was not enough for Arizona to maintain its Top 10 status of job growth.
McPheters puts year-to-date job growth at just 14th in the nation. And when government jobs are removed from the picture, the state drops to 15th.
"And it appears that unless something very unusual happens, we're going to end up this year as not a Top 10 growth state,'' he said. "That's just one other disappointment to go along with the fact that the economy is losing construction jobs.''
McPheters said the state will likely add no more than 55,000 jobs this year, about the same as last year.
"So that means we're kind of in a three-year period where the economy appears to have plateaued and we're just waiting for something to happen to either spur population growth or get some other sectors to drive the economy,'' he said.
Hoffman said, though, that the sales figures may not be as bad as they seem -- if not from the perspective of state revenues, then at least in terms of the strength of the economy: The numbers reported by retailers to the Department of Revenue obviously do not reflect some purchases made by consumers online or by phone.
Online retailers who have a physical presence in Arizona, like Target.com or Walmart.com, are required to collect the state sales tax. But those based solely elsewhere do not.
Arizona law technically requires buyers to report these purchases and pay an equivalent "use tax'' to the state. But with no real enforcement mechanism for the average consumer, that law goes largely ignored.
September reported taxable sales in billions of dollars
(Reflects August sales)
2004 -- $3.51
2005 -- $4.22
2006 -- $4.44
2007 -- $4.27
2008 -- $4.02
2009 -- $3.53
2010 -- $3.45
2011 -- $3.75
2012 -- $3.87
2013 -- $4.25
2014 -- $4.47
-- Source: Arizona Department of Revenue
Key elements of taxable sales
Element / Amount in millions of dollars / Year-over-year change
Motor vehicle dealers / $719.9 / 8%
Furniture and home furnishings / $274.3 / 3.1%
Building materials, lawn & garden / $270.7 / 2.3%
Taxable food and liquor / $288.3 / 1%
Miscellaneous retail / $684.1 / 10.3%
Clothing and accessories / $235.4 / (-1.6%)
Bar and restaurant sales / $896.3 / 7.1%
Hotel and motel rentals / $157.7 / 14.9%
Residential construction / $285.5 / 9.2%
Nonresidential construction / $192.2 / (-6.4%)
Heavy construction (roads, bridges) / $65.6 / (-4.9%)
-- Source: Arizona Department of Revenue
Private sector job growth, first 9 months of 2014
Rank / State / Number of jobs added / Growth percentage
1 / North Dakota / 19,590 / 5.4%
2 / Nevada / 41,270 / 4.1%
3 / Texas / 329,780 / 3.5%
4 / Florida / 221,520 / 3.4%
5 / Utah / 34,660 / 3.3%
6 / Oregon/ 42,280 / 3.1%
7 / Colorado / 59,510 / 3.0%
8 / Delaware / 9,980 / 2.8%
9 / California / 327,890 / 2.6%
10 / Georgia / 83,970 / 2.5%
11 / North Carolina / 83,000 / 2.5%
12 / Tennessee / 57,690 / 2.5%
13 / Washington / 59,790 / 2.5%
14 / Arizona / 49,630 / 2.4%
15 / Oklahoma / 29,400 / 2.3%
-- Source: W.P. Care School of Business, Arizona State University