Gila County’S Unemployment Rate Drops To 9.6 Percent

Average still above state numbers, but down from last January’s 11.6 rate

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Gila County’s unemployment rate dropped a full half a percent to 9.6 in November, besting the state and national decline, but still well above the state average.

The county’s unemployment rate has dropped from a debilitating 11.6 percent since January of last year.

Nationally, the November unemployment rate dropped from 9.0 percent in October to 8.7 percent in November — a little better than the statewide decline a little worse than Gila County’s improvement.

Unfortunately, a substantial share of the decline both nationally and locally came from people who stopped looking for work in a downturn that has seen record numbers of the long-term unemployed.

Since January, the number of people in Gila County with jobs has remained virtually unchanged, while the number of people officially looking for work declined 18 percent to 2,200.

The county-by-county breakdown released by the Arizona Department of Commerce several weeks after the U.S. Department of Labor releases state and national rates don’t break out rates by northern and southern Gila County. Typically, the unemployment rate in mining-dependent southern Gila County runs 1 to 3 percentage points ahead of the rate in tourism-dependent northern Gila County.

Gila County’s overall unemployment rate remains well behind the urban areas, but much better than some of the other still-struggling rural counties.

For instance, in November the Tucson area had a rate of 7.6 percent, the Phoenix area 7.7 percent and the Flagstaff area 7.7 percent — all much better than Gila County’s 9.6 percent.

On the other hand, Yuma suffered a rate of 23 percent, Pinal County a 14 percent and Santa Cruz County a 15 percent rate.

As it happens, northern Gila County will likely end up in a state legislative district with those hard-pressed western counties along the Colorado River if a redistricting plan proposed by the state’s independent redistricting committee survives assorted legal challenges.

Gila County did much better relative to the rest of the state in November than in October, when the rate here rose as the rest of the state fell.

Statewide, Arizona remained among the states hardest hit by the recession — but still better than some of the other former high-flying growth states — like Nevada (13 percent unemployment) and California (11.3 percent).

Nationally in November, unemployment dropped in 43 states — the broadest decline in eight years.

The number of Arizona workers without a job has declined 53,000 since peaking at 328,000 in December of 2009.

The state has struggled to regain its footing as a result of the collapse of the housing market and the recession, which served to lock people into their jobs and homes.

The U.S. Census Bureau reports that the number of Americans moving from one home to another has fallen to historic lows.

The breakdown on the state figures for November shows that the near free-fall in government employment of the past two years has stopped, especially in the education sector.

Out of the 10,200 non-farm jobs added to Arizona payrolls in November, private sector job growth came in a little less than normal for the month while government job growth rated a little stronger than normal. Government had a net gain of 2,000 jobs for the month, which included 2,800 additional local government jobs (including 2,300 in education), offset by a decline of 900 federal government jobs and 400 state government jobs.

The trade, transportation and utilities sector added 12,900 jobs, to lead the field. Retail trade gained 12,800, which reflected often-temporary job gains in retail for the Christmas season.

Natural resources and mining remained flat, which was bad news for southern Gila County.

On the other hand, leisure and hospitality added 1,600 jobs — good news for tourist-dependent northern Gila County, even if it represented a smaller-than-average gain based on past years.

Construction, once a mainstay of the Rim Country economy, continued to struggle in November, with a loss of 6,000 jobs statewide, which is about three times the normal job loss in the sector for this time of year.

Fortunately, Payson hopes to launch two of the biggest construction projects in Rim Country history in the spring — the $34 million Blue Ridge pipeline and the first, 1,000-student phase of a university campus.

So far this year, education and health services has led job growth, followed closely by trade, transportation and utilities, with leisure and hospitality trailing along in third place.

Those three sectors account for 70 percent of the 46,000 jobs added to the state’s payrolls in the past year.

Overall, 94 percent of the job gains have come in the private sector, reflecting the impact of widespread state and local government layoffs in the past two years.

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