Jobless Rate Rises

County’s trend veers from state, nation

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Gila County’s unemployment rate rose slightly in December, bucking the otherwise encouraging trend both statewide and nationally.

The seasonally adjusted rate for the whole of the county rose from 8.4 percent in November to a discouraging 8.8 percent, after four months of decline. That’s still a full percentage point lower than the 9.8 percent high water mark for last year set in January.

December brought much better news for the whole state — and the country at large. The Arizona rate dropped from 7.6 in November to 7.4 in December — the lowest rate since October of 2008.

Nationally, the rate dropped from 7 percent to 6.7 percent.

The state’s 7.6 percent jobless rate remained far above the historic low of 3.5 percent set in July of 2007, before the bottom dropped out of Arizona’s growth-oriented economy.

Despite the dropping unemployment rate, job growth for the year remained at a weak 2 percent. The biggest concern lies in the 35,000 Arizonans who dropped out of the workforce, either because of disabilities or because they simply gave up looking for work.

Congress recently balked at extending long-term unemployment benefits, which will impact the ranks of the long-term unemployed. This core of people who cannot get back into the labor force remains the most distinctive and worrisome aspect of the slow recovery from the last housing crash. Before the recession, jobless benefits lasted for 26 weeks. But Congress has extended the benefits to a maximum of 63 weeks each year since 2008.

Both Senators John McCain and Jeff Flake voted against the extension of benefits for Ari­zonans who haven’t been able to find work within the normal span of benefits. An estimated 17,100 Arizonans lost their benefits on Dec. 28 and another 22,500 will lose benefits in the next few months if Congress doesn’t approve the extension.

House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) has said he won’t allow a vote on the bill in the House unless the administration agrees to an offsetting $6.4 billion in cuts elsewhere in the budget.

The U.S. Department of Labor estimates that not renewing long-term insurance benefits could cost the economy 240,000 jobs in 2014, including 2,000 in Arizona due to decreased spending by the long-term unemployed.

Last year, the Gila County unemployment rate declined steadily to a low of 8.3 percent in May. But in the second half of the year the rate locally bounced around — rising to 9.4 in August, then declining steadily until it bubbled back up in December.

The total civilian workforce in Gila County has declined from 22,564 in January of 2013 to 21,779 in December — a nearly 4 percent decline.

Statewide in December, Ari­zona gained some 7,000 non-farm jobs, a little better than the 10-year average for the month and almost twice the 2009-13 average for the month. However, an overall loss of 4,200 government jobs muffled the trend. Schools and education proved the big loser, shedding 2,600 jobs at the state level and 2,500 jobs at the local level.

The national jobless rate remains nearly a full percentage point below Arizona’s overall rate and nearly 2 percentage points below the rate in Gila County.

However, the jobless rate in Northern Gila County typically mirrors the statewide average, even though the most recent figures don’t provide a separate tally for North County. The overall Gila County rate is strongly affected by the 50 percent unemployment rate on the San Carlos Apache Reser­vation and by the relatively high jobless rate in the Globe area, with its heavy reliance on mining.

December jobless rate by county

Apache 19.3

Cochise 8.3

Coconino 7.6

Gila 8.8

Graham 7.4

Greenlee 6.8

La Paz 9.2

Maricopa 6.1

Mohave 9.0

Navajo 14.1

Pima 6.4

Pinal 7.5

Santa Cruz 17.3

Yavapai 7.3

Yuma 27

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