Gila County’S Unemployment Rate Rises As State’S Drops

Local rate edges up to 10.1 percent, but crucial tourism sector shows gains

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Gila County’s unemployment rate rose in October, fresh evidence rural Arizona’s recovery continues to lag behind the big urban centers.

The county’s rate rose from 9.8 percent in September to 10.1 percent in October.

By contrast, the state’s unemployment rate fell — from 9.1 percent to 9 percent. That’s down from about 9.7 percent a year ago.

Nationally, the unemployment rate held steady at 9.1 percent, marking the first time in months Arizona’s rate has dipped below the national trend.

Arizona added 15,500 non-farm jobs in October, a half a percent greater gain for the month than the 10-year average.

The private sector accounted for 12,700 of the new jobs statewide, a growth rate well above the 10-year average.

The government sector gained 2,800 jobs, reversing months of steady losses in the government sector. However, the gain in government jobs worked out to only about half the average gain over the last 10 years.

Over the course of the year, the state has added 44,000 jobs, 91 percent of those in the private sector.

Since April, the Gila County unemployment rate has bounced up and down but remained stubbornly stuck at around 10 percent. However, that’s at least way down from January’s 11.6 percent tally, according to the monthly statistical summary released by the Arizona Department of Administration.

Gila County’s work force in October remained virtually unchanged at 23,079.

The state doesn’t offer detailed breakdowns within the county in its monthly release of figures. Typically, the rate in mining-dependent southern Gila County runs one or two percentage points ahead of tourist-dependent northern Gila County.

Gila County continues to suffer a stalled recovery along with most of the rest of rural Arizona, which generally suffers unemployment rates 1 to 2 percent higher than Maricopa County, which harbors almost two-thirds of the state’s population.

For instance, Maricopa County’s rate held steady at 7.9 percent.

Most rural counties had much higher rates, including 15 percent in Apache County, 8 percent in Cochise County, 10.4 percent in Graham County, 9.5 percent in La Paz County, 10.1 percent in Mohave County, 14 percent in Navajo County, 10.6 in Pinal County, 9.4 percent in Yavapai County, 18 percent in Santa Cruz County and a staggering 26 percent in Yuma County.

Three counties had rates comparable to Maricopa County, including Pima County with 7.9 percent anchored by Tucson and, oddly enough, Greenlee County with a work force of about 4,000 and a unemployment rate of 7.3 percent.

Coconino County also did well, with a rate of 7.3 percent. That statistic perhaps reflects the benefit a mostly rural county reaps from a university campus, since Northern Arizona University anchors Flagstaff’s economy.

Statewide, the figures show that after lagging behind the national recovery for most of the year Arizona has closed the gap and even nudged ahead.

For instance, starting in 2008, retail trade in Arizona plunged by about 9 percent, much deeper than the 6 percent decline nationally. Now, retail sales have climbed about 2 percent above the 2008 levels — both locally and nationally.

The tourism industry on which Rim Country remains heavily dependent has followed a similar pattern.

Jobs in the leisure and hospitality market increased by nearly 8 percent between 2002 and 2005, before starting a sharp decline. By 2007, jobs in the industry had returned to the 2002 level. From there, they declined 6 percent in the following year — about twice the national decline.

Since October of 2009, the tourism sector has added jobs steadily, up about 10 percent from the bottom of the cycle — and now up about 4 percent over the 2002 level.

That compares to a 2 percent gain in that sector nationally in the same period.

Statewide, the “leisure and accommodations” sector has added 10,000 jobs, second only to “educational and health service’s” gain of 17,000.

So the figures would seem to indicate that after a year of lagging behind the nation in job creation, Arizona has finally regained some of the advantages residents had almost taken for granted in the decade before the onset of the recession.

The other major anchor for Rim Country’s economy remains pallid. Statewide, the construction sector peaked in 2005 by dropped 15 percent by 2006. Construction then collapsed in 2007 and 2008 — shedding 35 percent of its jobs.

Since hitting bottom in October of 2009, the construction sector has made steady gains. It returned to 2006 levels early this year and has since gained about 5 percent.

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