Payson’s unemployment rate rose in September to 4.9 percent, a 2 percent increase since April, due largely to an increase in workers and a slump in the economy.
Unemployment numbers continue to rise across the board, with the national unemployment rate at 6.1 percent and Arizona’s at 5.9 percent in September, according to the Arizona Workforce Informer.
The Arizona Department of Economic Security reported an increase in unemployment benefit applications since the beginning of the year.
“We are definitely seeing an increase in the number of people who lost their jobs applying for unemployment benefits and that is directly related to the economy,” said public information officer Kevan Kaighn.
The Arizona Department of Commerce projects a continued loss of jobs late into 2009.
Payson’s Regional Economic Development Corporation Executive Director Ken Volz said he does not see unemployment leveling off in Payson for a while.
“We are probably looking at six to eight months from possibly seeing some improvement,” he said.
In April, with a smaller work force of 5,910 in Payson, unemployment was at 2.9 percent. However, with the addition of a few hundred workers, the unemployment rate rose as the downturn in the economy hit the community.
Volz said the town has never been a big employment center, drawing a small number of service jobs and employers, who typically offer the lowest paying jobs.
“We need to help diversify the economy so we can weather these storms much better,” Volz said.
“We are concentrating on bringing in more jobs and bringing in jobs that are more professional and technical that pay better and offer a higher quality of life that allow more people to reinvest back into the community.”
Smaller communities throughout Rim Country with a smaller labor base have unemployment rates half that of Payson’s.
In Pine, unemployment is steady at 3.3 percent and Strawberry, 2.9 percent.
With the tumbling financial and housing markets, construction jobs have fallen and suffered 13 months of job losses in Arizona.
Since September 2007, more than 38,000 construction jobs were lost and are expected to fall further into 2009, according to the Arizona Department of Commerce.
“This town has historically relied on construction and nationwide this has been impacted the most with the housing crunch,” Volz said.
“The state of Arizona has been harder hit because Arizona was relying on growth from construction.”
Higher paying manufacturing jobs are needed in town to bring a higher quality of life, Volz said.
“Manufacturing jobs pay 70 percent more than service-type jobs and ultimately that is what people need, having higher discretionary income,” Volz said.
“The ultimate solution is to diversify the community.”
Attracting and retaining good jobs for the youth is also needed to keep the community thriving, Volz said.
“We need to do everything we can to keep young people in the community,” he said. “If we allow this brain drain to continue, that is an indication of a community that is not going to exist over the long term.”