Gila County remains mired in a downturn that stubbornly refuses to turn around, with unemployment stuck at 9.6 percent — a full 2.3 percent above nearby Maricopa County.
On the other hand, at least we’re not struggling with Apache County’s 18 percent or Yuma County’s 31 percent.
The frustrating July numbers came as the state imposed new requirements that the unemployed document their long, futile search for work — triggering long lines at many unemployment offices.
Last year, the Arizona Legislature opted out of a mostly federally funded program to extend benefits for the long-term unemployed out of work, ensuring that tens of thousands of residents would lose their benefits.
Unfortunately, the steady declines in the state’s unemployment rate at that time has stalled, leaving levels stubbornly high month after month — especially in rural areas like Rim Country.
Some 2,183 Gila County residents were registered for unemployment last month. Estimates suggest that a nearly equal number are just barely getting by in part-time jobs or have given up the search.
The Arizona economy overall has improved markedly in the last year and now ranks as one of the 10 fastest-growing states in the country. However, much of that recovery has come in Maricopa County, where the rate in July dropped to 7.3 percent.
Statewide, the rate rose slightly to 8.3 percent — mirroring the national figure.
A year ago, the state’s unemployment rate stood at 9.6 percent compared to a U.S. rate of 9.1 percent.
The Arizona economy normally sheds jobs in July. The decline in July this year was only about half the normal loss, according to an analysis released by the Arizona Department of Administration.
The big losses once again came in the government sector — especially schools. Many school districts in Arizona laid off employees as they struggled to cope with another year of cutbacks. Government shed 16,000 jobs in July, mostly in local school districts.
The biggest gains by sector came in financial activities, manufacturing and construction.
The Leisure and Hospitality Industry — crucial to Rim County’s economy — lost 5,700 jobs statewide — a 2 percent decline.
Gila County mostly just marked time for another month.
The county has 22,634 people in the civilian labor force, 2,183 looking for work. Those numbers have barely changed since January, when Gila County had 21,882 people in the workforce and 2,295 people looking for work.
In January, the unemployment rate stood at 10.5 percent.
The plight of the long-term unemployed remained the most devastating — and vexing aspects of the picture for yet another month.
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that some 5.2 million Americans have been looking for work for at least 27 weeks, which puts them in the “long-term unemployed” category. That constitutes about 41 percent of the 12.8 million Americans looking for work.
In most past periods of high unemployment, people cycle in and out of the work force. The growth of a group who can’t find work month after month as they exhaust all their resources makes this downturn particularly damaging for many people.
Although the economy generated an extra 163,000 jobs in July, that just managed to absorb new people moving into the workforce — resulting in a slight rise despite the job gains.
The national jobs report noted that some 8.2 million workers are working part time, although they want to work full time. Another 2.5 million want jobs, but have given up actively looking for work.