Gila County Unemployment Falls, Bucking State, National Trends

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Gila County’s unemployment rate fell just slightly in July to 10.6 percent, but remains above May’s briefly heartening 9.8 percent, according to the Arizona Department of Commerce.

The July report didn’t provide a more detailed breakout, but northern Gila County’s unemployment rate is typically about 2 percentage points below the statewide average — which is affected by extremely high rates in places like the San Carlos Apache Reservation and distressed mining towns in southern Gila County.

The total civilian labor force in the county rose to 23,596, the highest number of people with jobs in any month since January.

Nonetheless, about 2,500 people in the county continue to look desperately for work as the economic downturn lingers despite a year of ostensible, albeit anemic, economic growth.

Still, the small drop in Gila County’s unemployment rate contrasts with a small rise in the state rate — which crept upward from 9.3 percent in June to 9.4 percent in July.

The national rate did even worse — rising from 9.2 percent in June to 9.5 percent in July.

Still, the unemployment rate at the local, state and national levels all looked a little better than a year ago —- although stock market gyrations reflect investors’ fears that the nation might be facing a double-dip recession.

State economists said that statewide employment typically drops in July but that the drop recorded this year was significantly lower than the average — a hopeful sign that the state’s economy might be mending more quickly than the national economy.

The loss of government jobs in July accounted for two-thirds of the job losses statewide.

Those government job losses included 15,000 seasonal jobs and 16,000 local government jobs, mostly in education.

The state also lost about 400 federal jobs.

The private sector did a little better, losing about 7,500 jobs — about half the normal job loss for July in the past decade.

Unfortunately, the Leisure and Hospitality Industry so important to Rim Country’s economy lost about 5,100 jobs statewide and restaurants lost another 4,800 — a worrisome sign for this region’s tourism-based economy. However, that sector still looks pretty good when compared to this time last year, having added about 8 percent to its job tally.

Education and Health Services remains the mainstay of the economic recovery in Arizona, with an 18-percent increase in employment from last year.

In fact, only government has recorded a net decrease in jobs in the past year, but that sector dropped by a whopping 17 percent.

The construction industry showed heartening signs of life in Arizona in July, adding 800 jobs — the fifth monthly gain in a row.

The building industry led the way into the recession, with job figures in free fall.

Payson went from building an average of about 250 homes a year four years ago to building only a handful in the past 12 months.

Construction employment has essentially remained flat for the past 12 months, eking out a bleak 1-percent improvement overall.

The report concluded, “Over the year, total nonfarm employment was up 20,700 jobs or 0.9 percent, the best increase so far in 2011. All of the major sectors except Government (-16,900) were positive over the year. Education and Health Services (+18,100) and Leisure and Hospitality (+7,700) had the most gains.”

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