Jobs

Gila County’s jobless rate in September was 6.5%, up from 5.9% in August. The state saw unemployment increase from 5.9% in August to 6.7% in September.

Arizona’s jobless rate ticked down a tenth of a point in January, helped in part by more people being willing to go out to eat and drink.

New figures from the state Office of Economic Opportunity show that employment at bars and restaurants ticked up by 900 over December levels. By contrast, that sector typically loses about 1,300 jobs this time of year.

The drop in the seasonally adjusted unemployment rate to 6.7% also was aided by a continued strong showing in employment in transportation and warehousing as Arizonans — and people across the country — continue to move away from shopping at traditional retailers and instead find comfort in clicking on what they want and having it delivered to their door.

In Gila County, however, the unemployment rate continued to climb. It went from 5.1% in December to 6.9% in January.

Doug Walls, the agency’s labor market information director, acknowledged at least some of that is due to COVID-19 as people found themselves unable or unwilling to go shopping. In fact, there was a sharp spike in the months immediately following the start of the pandemic, with the share of retail sales in e-commerce jumping two full percentage points, to 16.1%

That has settled down a bit to 14%. But Walls said it is unlikely that the opening of the economy and the ability of people to go out will slow anytime soon — if ever.

“Some of that also has been occurring over the last two decades,” he said.

“That’s how people are deciding to make their purchases,” Walls continued. “More and more every year we’re seeing a larger share of overall retail sales coming from online sales.”

That, in turn, reflects in the continued increase in employment in transportation and warehousing even as the rest of the economy struggles. Think not just Amazon but other companies involved in e-commerce.

In fact, while the overall private sector has recovered just 68% of the jobs lost since the beginning of the recession, employment in this sector actually has more than made up the losses and even has grown.

At the other extreme?

Look at stores that sell clothing and accessories. They have shed close to one employee out of every four they had a year earlier.

Also in deep losses are the state’s hotels, motels and resorts. They have lost more than a third of their workforce in the past year amid travel restrictions.

The difference, however, is that the hospitality industry likely will pick back up as restrictions are lifted. But the traditional brick-and-mortar stores will continue to face economic headwinds from online sales even after the virus subsides.

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