County Unemployment Rate Drops, But Local Job Picture Still ‘Stagnant’

Gila County rate drops to 9.7 percent, still above statewide average of 9.1

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Gila County’s unemployment rate dropped sharply to 9.7 percent in September, but remained a little above the state average.

Despite the decrease in the rate, the county’s work force of 20,906 has barely budged since January.

Workers at the unemployment office say many unemployed workers have simply given up and moved away, especially after the state Legislature failed to pass a law this summer needed to take advantage of extended, federally funded unemployment benefits.

“We had a lot of people that fell off when the extensions were stopped,” said Department of Economic Security employment representative Mike Guardina, who has processed unemployment claims for the past decade.

He said the local job picture remains “stagnant.”

“Even the number of people coming in looking for jobs has slowed down. Could be the weather. Could be the fact they’re discouraged,” said Guardina. ”There’s a lot of discouragement: People just can’t handle being turned down. It’s pretty tough for people out there.”

The latest unemployment figures offered at least a glimmer of hope, with the county rate dropping nearly half a percentage point — from 10.2 percent to 9.7 percent.

That’s a sharper drop than the statewide average, which fell to 9.1 percent from 9.4 percent. Nationally, the unemployment rate in September remained unchanged at 9.1 percent.

A year ago, the national rate stood at 9.6 percent and the Arizona rate at 9.8 percent.

Guardina said even the rumor of jobs prompts a rush on the unemployment office. For instance, hope that the mines might start hiring in Globe periodically causes a surge in inquiries.

“Every time you get a rumor the mines are going to do something, they flood the office in Globe. But right now, there’s just nothing going on.”

He said lots of people just disappear, chasing rumors of jobs in the Dakota oil fields and elsewhere.

“It’s pretty common. People just disappear. We have lost track of a number of people — because we just don’t have jobs to send them to,” he said.

Some estimates suggest that the population of Payson, for instance, has dropped by about 2,000 since the onset of the recession, with the decline concentrated among younger workers who have given up and moved away.

Still, the job numbers both locally and nationally suggest a maddeningly slow improvement — and little sign of the slide back into recession some analysts fear.

Nationally, the number of people looking for work dropped by 390,000 — the lowest level since last April. Moreover, the national trade deficit shrank to $43 billion, the smallest in a year. Moreover, the number of people receiving regular unemployment nationally dropped by 92,000 to 3.62 million.

However, another 3 million unemployed workers nationally are getting extended benefits. This hard core of long-term unemployed workers remains the disturbing hallmark of the current, cheerless recovery. In 2007, 18 percent of the unemployed had been out of work for longer than 26 weeks. In 2011, that figure rose to 44 percent.

However, workers in Arizona can no longer get those extended benefits, since the Legislature this summer failed to approve a state match for a mostly federally funded extension of benefits.

Many of those workers had no options once they lost benefits. “They were completely dependent on unemployment. A lot of them said they’d already had to sell their homes and their cars and used up their savings just to get by,” said Guardina.

The federal government offered to extend weekly benefits of up to $240 from 79 to 99 weeks, providing the workers continue to look actively for another job. The Legislature refused to approve the extension as they sought ways to balance the budget and close revenue deficits. An estimated 15,000 residents lost benefits.

In Arizona, the September figures recorded net gains of 4,100 private sector jobs and 22,000 government sector jobs. For the year, the state has picked up about 52,000 jobs.

Statewide, construction added 3,700 jobs — second only to the government sector in job growth. The depressed construction sector added a total of 7,000 jobs for the year.

Statewide, the leisure and hospitality sector — crucial to Rim Country’s economy — added a modest 1,900 jobs, with stronger percentage gains for Food Services and Drinking places (up 1,600) and Arts and Entertainment (1,500). That offset a 1,200-job-decline in the Accommodations sector.

Statewide, nonfarm employment in September rose by about 2.2 percent, with the strongest gains in the health care sector.

In Gila County, the number of people on unemployment dropped from 2,361 to 2,250.

Out of the nearly 21,000 jobs in the county, the federal government accounted for 550, while state and local government provided another 4,375. That means government provides about 23 percent of the jobs in the county.

Once upon a time, mining, ranching and logging accounted for the bulk of the jobs in the resource-rich county. Now, however, the goods-producing sector accounts for 2,525 jobs. That’s about 12 percent of the jobs in the county and only half as many jobs as the government sector provides.

But mostly, people with “service providing” jobs now account for most of the county’s work force. The 11,325 people in private, service-providing jobs now account for about 54 percent of the jobs countywide.

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