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Seasonal hiring in education helps state unemployment rate remain steady

For the second straight month, seasonal hiring in education kept Arizona’s unemployment rate steady, but officials expect job losses to continue, the state Department of Commerce announced Oct. 15.

The unemployment rate for September was 9.1 percent, the same as August but up from 6 percent in September 2008.

Arizona usually adds jobs in August and September as school resumes, and last month was no exception. But the 10,600 non-farm jobs added overall was the second-lowest gain for the month since 1990, bettering only the previous September.

The state saw its 20th straight month of year-over-year job losses, shedding 195,800 non-farm jobs since September 2008. In all, the state has lost 305,300 jobs since the recession began in December 2007.

Lisa Danka, the Commerce Department’s assistant deputy director of strategic investment research, said the unemployment rate could peak in the double digits but declined to suggest when that could happen.

However, she said there are signs that the recession is beginning to bottom out in Arizona. For example, the year-over-year rate of job losses has been around 7.5 percent since May.

“The rate of loss had been increasing prior to that, so we are hopeful that with it staying steady maybe that is good news,” Danka said.

The department projects that the state will begin seeing employment growth by the end of 2010.

Education hiring at the state and local levels added 21,100 jobs during the month, and private educational services added 900 jobs.

Retail trade continued seeing losses, shedding 2,700 jobs. Dating to September 2008, retail lost 24,900 jobs.

Leisure and hospitality also saw more declines, dropping 2,400 jobs. Dating to September 2008, that sector lost 10,900 jobs. Danka said that weakness in tourism around the country is contributing to the losses.

“Folks are not traveling as they did two years ago,” she said.

Meanwhile, losses continued to ameliorate in construction, which still shed 900 jobs for the month and lost 45,800 jobs in the previous year.

Danka said reduced losses in the construction sector, including two months of slight gains since June, might be a sign that the recession is hitting bottom.

The department projects that construction will continue losing jobs through the end of next year.

Weather contributes to the cyclical nature of the construction industry and could be a reason for recent fluctuations, said Marc Chopin, dean of Northern Arizona University’s W.A. Franke College of Business. But he said he doesn’t anticipate a steady increase in any job sector for quite some time.

“I expect that we have largely bottomed off, but how long it will remain that way is the question,” he said. “It could get better and it could get worse.”

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