Arizona’s unemployment rate in March fell to 9.3 percent, led by a sharp rise in jobs in the tourism sector.
Gila County’s rate dropped slightly, but remained at 10.9 percent, according to an Arizona Department of Commerce report.
Gila County’s workforce has remained virtually unchanged since January, with 2.525 people still searching for a job. The county has 21,000 workers, 21 percent of them with government jobs.
This huge, rural county continues to lag behind almost every urbanized area of the state. The 10.9 percent unemployment rate here compares to 8.8 percent in the Valley, 8.7 percent in Tucson, and an enviable 6.8 percent in Flagstaff.
However Gila County’s unemployment rate remained on a par with Prescott’s 10.4 percent and Lake Havasu-Kingman’s 11.1 percent.
Gila County’s unemployment rate closely matched most other large, rural counties in the state. The county only looked good compared to handful of even more rural counties — generally those with large Indian Reservations. Higher rates included Yuma’s 22 percent, Apache County’s 16.5 percent, Navajo County’s 15.6 percent and Santa Cruz County’s 15 percent.
Statewide, the drop to 9.5 percent represented the fourth monthly decline in a row, but offered only a minimal improvement from the rate of 10.1 percent last March. Moreover, Arizona continued to lag behind the rest of the country, where the rate in March dropped to 8.8 percent — down from 9.8 percent a year ago.
In Arizona, private businesses added 9,900 jobs while government lost 400 positions in March.
That eased fears of a renewed recession — but still added jobs at only half the rate as March’s average before the recession.
Most of the March gain came in the leisure and hospitality industry, which added 9,900 new jobs — two thirds of the total gain in the private sector. That makes tourism and travel the only sector of the Arizona economy that now has more jobs than before the recession took hold in 2008.
Curiously, employment in Gila County remained virtually flat — even though the region depends heavily on tourism and travel.
Statewide, eight of the 11 major sectors added jobs in March.
The big gains besides tourism came in construction (2,000 jobs), specialty trades (2,300), retail trade (1,100), transportation and utilities (1,200), real estate (1,100) education and health services (600), durable goods (900) and manufacturing (700).
On the other hand, several sectors continued to shed jobs. That includes professional and business services (2,200) and mining and natural resources (100).
State and local government also lost more jobs — although the federal government sector rose by 500 jobs.
Local government in March lost 700 jobs and state government lost 200 jobs, a reflection of the state Legislature’s success at passing large chunks of its deficit problem along to local government with deep cuts in state support for many local government and school services.
Compared to a year ago, the state’s long-stalled economy has added a net gain of just 5,000 jobs.
The big gains have come in educational and health services, tourism and the trades. Growth in those sectors overcame drops in construction, government and business and professional services.