The year ended on a strong note with a sharp drop in unemployment in Gila County.
The county’s jobless rated in November dropped to 8.4 percent, down half a point from 9.1 percent in October.
The decline mirrored a drop in the statewide unemployment rate to 7.8 percent, down from 8.2 percent in October.
Nationally, the economy produced an additional 203,000 jobs driving the unemployment rate down to 7 percent, the lowest level in five years.
Arizona’s economy added 26,000 non-farm jobs for the month, almost all of them in the private sector — especially trade, transportation and utilities.
The size of the Gila County labor force has remained virtually unchanged for the past year, with a total of 21,882 workers, 1,843 of them still looking for work. Last January, the number of unemployed in Gila County totaled 2,216, with a labor force of 22,564.
Gila County’s unemployment rate of 8.4 percent is strongly affected by inclusion of the San Carlos Apache Reservation, which has an unemployment rate of around 50 percent and the still-struggling mining communities in southern Gila County around Globe and Miami. Although the monthly state figures don’t break out the rate for Northern Gila County, the region’s unemployment rate is often 2 percentage points below the statewide average.
The overall county rate remains significantly higher than Maricopa County, with a November rate of just 5.9 percent. Paced by the job base in Tucson, Pima County reported a jobless rate of 6.2 percent.
Gila County did a little bit worse than Coconino County’s 7.2 percent, where the university town of Flagstaff provides the driver. Gila County also did a little worse than Yavapai County’s 6.9 percent, which has Prescott as the core. Greenlee, Graham, Pinal also had somewhat lower rates than Gila County.
On the other hand, Gila County did a little better than a number of purely rural counties, like La Paz and Mohave, and much better than counties with large migrant worker or reservation populations like Apache, Navajo and Yuma.
In another hopeful sign for Gila County’s long-becalmed economy, the Valley housing market has started to boom, according to some figures.
Sale prices for single family homes in Pima and Maricopa County have risen about 33 percent in the past year, creating the strongest market since the crash. Experts say that the real estate market in Rim Country generally lags behind the trends in the Valley by some months.
Mike Orr, director of the Center for Real Estate Theory and Practice at Arizona State University’s W.P. Carey School of Business estimates that said the Valley market has more or less recovered from the housing crash in the course of the past two years.
On the other hand, economists worry that the Fed will now step in by starting to increase interest rates, to prevent the falling unemployment rate from triggering a round of inflation. The Fed has kept the interest rate for banks at close to zero for several years and has previously said that an unemployment rate of 6.5 percent would constitute a threshold for considering a slow increase in rates.
The Commerce Department added more fuel to speculation about a change in rates in November when it announced that the annual growth rate nationally hit 3.6 percent in the third quarter, much stronger than some experts had projected.
Nonetheless, the recession and the housing crash may have inflicted long-term damage in the country, with a lower percentage of people in the work force than in 2009. In fact, work force participation hit a 35-year low in October – driven in part by an aging population but also by a worrisome growth in the ranks of the long-term unemployed.
Unfortunately, without Congressional action in January an emergency federal program to extend jobless benefits for the long-term unemployed will expire. Republicans balked at extending unemployment benefits during the last round of budget talks. Since about 2008, the federal government has shouldered the cost of a increase in the duration of jobless benefits for people who can’t find work.