NPC offering construction skills classes this fall (copy)

We’re pretty much stuck on not bad at all.

The latest unemployment figures put Gila County’s rate at 5 percent — about the same as last September.

Now, the rate looks like it’s dropped to 6 percent in October — but that’s because employment usually drops a bit between October and November.

The latest figures show the county has 22,318 people in the civilian workforce, up about 1.7 percent from the same time a year ago.

However, nearly as many people have given up looking for work as have joined the workforce — so the rate remains virtually unchanged.

Perhaps the brightest spot in the just-released economic figures lies in the big 8 percent jump in retail sales for the county — up to $30 million for the month. The sales tax largely determines the health of the towns and counties, as well as serving as a strong indicator of the health of the economy.

On the other hand — the once promising housing boom seems to have faltered. Countywide, building permits issued in the county dropped about 10 percent from the same time a year ago, according to a monthly economic report compiled by the University of Arizona (https://www.azeconomy.org/data/gila-county/).

So overall, we’re holding our own — with sales performing better than jobs, which likely reflects a healthy flow of out-of-county dollars from tourism.

The breakdown of Gila County jobs by sector offers some other economic tidbits.

Government work accounts for 5,100 of the jobs in the county — roughly 25 percent of all the jobs in the economy — that’s up about 1 percent from a year ago.

Transportation, trade and utilities account for 2,100 jobs and other service jobs for about 4,600.

Manufacturing — actually making stuff — accounts for about 3,000 jobs — about 14 percent of the Gila County workforce. That category rose by about 2 percent.

Still, the county continues to lag behind both the state and national employment rate — although we’re closing the gap at a painfully slow rate.

Statewide, the seasonally adjusted 4.9 percent rate remained about the same as last year — down one-tenth of a point.

Still, compare that to the 11 percent peak during the recession. The steady decline in the unemployment rate from 2010 stalled about two years ago — and has bobbed up and down at around 5 percent ever since.

Fortunately, the state continues to create more jobs — adding about 17,000 in September and 86,000 from a year ago.

Better yet, wages in the past year have risen an average of 4.4 percent in Arizona — compared to about 3 percent nationally. You can credit a voter-mandated boost in the minimum wage for much of that increase. The minimum stands at $11 now and will rise to $12 at the end of the year. The increase hasn’t resulted in a drop in employment in those low-wage jobs, despite predictions to the contrary.

Nonetheless, most Arizona workers still earn less than their counterparts annually. The average wage here is $26.88 — about 6 percent less than the national average.

The unemployment rate hasn’t budged because for every new worker that enters the workforce — someone new starts looking for work. If you don’t have a job and aren’t looking, you don’t count as unemployed in the statistics gathered by the U.S. Department of Labor.

Statewide, construction remains a driving force in job growth — accounting for about 10 percent of the added jobs.

The state’s health care industry is not far behind — adding 12,700 jobs statewide — an increase of about 4 percent.

Manufacturing lost about 400 jobs — but still stands at about 8,900 more than the same time a year ago.

On the other hand, retail trade continues to decline — shedding 2,200 jobs statewide in the past year as online retailers continue to cut into brick and mortar storefronts. That’s especially hard on towns like Payson, which rely heavily on sales tax from retail sales in town. New state laws that tax online sales will help, but it’s unclear how much, given the continued dwindling of brick and mortar businesses.

Contact the writer at paleshire@payson.com

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