Unemployment Still High In Gila County

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The ranks of the unemployed grew slightly in Gila County in November, unlike the trend in the rest of the state.

Although Gila County’s uncorrected rate fell from 11 percent to 10.9 percent, the seasonally adjusted rate actually rose from 11.2 percent to 11.4 percent.

By contrast, the seasonally adjusted rate statewide fell from 9.5 percent to 9.4 percent —bucking the national trend. Nationally, the unemployment rate rose from 9.6 percent to 9.8 percent.

Overall, the November figures held modest encouragement for the state, where lawmakers pray the anemic recovery will gain enough strength to reduce the depth of another round of anticipated budget cuts.

The figures released by the state department of commerce provided county-by-county breakdowns of unemployment, which put Gila County at the upper end of the scale.

The Valley had a seasonally adjusted unemployment rate of 8.9 percent, Tucson 8.8 percent and Flagstaff 8.1 percent. More rural areas had higher unemployment rates, including 10.2 percent in Prescott and 10.7 percent in Kingman-Lake Havasu City.

The hardest hit region in the state remains Yuma, with a staggering seasonally adjusted rate of 26.8 percent and still rising.

Statewide, the economy added 12,800 jobs in November. That included 3,500 government jobs, most of them in public education.

Retail trade led all categories in job growth heading into the Christmas season, with 8,700 new jobs.

Professional and business services added 2,300 jobs statewide, but much of that appears to come from the hiring of temporary workers through the employment services industry.

Two of the most striking aspects of the long, dispiriting, jobless recovery have been the sharp rise in the ranks of the long-term unemployed and the rise in the “temporary worker” category, often highly skilled people hired at a reduced rate with no benefits or job security.

Statewide, the November figures represented the fourth month in a row of job growth. Before the recession, Arizona had a much lower unemployment rate and a much higher job growth rate than the rest of the country, but the recession hit Arizona much harder than most other areas.

Now, however, Arizona has once again risen above the national average when it comes to job growth, despite the continued lassitude of the once dominant construction sector. Construction lost about 3,000 jobs in November, but finished the year with a gain of about 600 jobs. Overall, the number of jobs in Arizona has risen by 1 percent this year, nearly double the national figure.

The November figures don’t provide breakdowns within counties, so the figures likely make Rim Country’s plight look worse than it is. Typically, unemployment in Rim Country runs perhaps 2 percentage points below the countywide figure. High unemployment rates in the Globe and Miami area reflect the ongoing downturn in the mining sector. Unemployment on the San Carlos Apache Reservation, typically hovers near 50 percent.

However, construction and tourism — once the mainstay of the Rim Country economy, remain depressed.

The construction industry lost a slew of jobs in November, but essentially broke even for the year. The leisure and hospitality industry lost 900 jobs statewide in November. That figure reflected gains in food services and bars that were overwhelmed by job losses in arts, entertainment, recreation and accommodations.

Gila County in November had a work force of 23,000, with 2,550 people looking for a job.

In Gila County, only 16 percent of workers have jobs in “goods producing” industries, which includes mining and construction.

The rest of the county’s workers have jobs in “service providing jobs,” which includes government, retail trade and tourism.

The government provides 37 percent of all of the non-farm jobs, almost all of those in state and local government. Retail trade provides roughly 31 percent of the county’s jobs.

The rest account for 37 percent, which includes the bulk of the tourist industry.

The struggle of the Rim Country economy for the past two years underscores the drive to diversify the economy.

For instance, Rim Country resembles Flagstaff in many ways, with a local economy heavily dependent on tourism. However, Flagstaff also benefits from the presence of Northern Arizona University, which provides a chunk of stable, year-round jobs — both on campus and in other businesses that cater to students and staff. That has helped Flagstaff maintain an unemployment rate throughout the recession several percentage points below other rural areas of the state.

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