Arizona’s unemployment rate dipped to 9.3 percent in April, but that good news apparently comes with a price: The state’s social-services agency said the decrease could trigger an earlier end to jobless benefits.
The Department of Commerce reported Thursday that the state’s economy added 17,200 nonfarm jobs in April as the unemployment rate dropped from 9.5 percent in March. It was at 9.6 percent the three months before then.
The April state unemployment rate of 9.3 percent will be used to calculate a new three-month average for the state.
As of April, approximately16,000 people received the federally funded extended benefits now in jeopardy, according to the state Department of Economic Security.
DES spokesman Steve Meissner said the likely result of the new average will be that benefits will be reduced to a maximum of 79 weeks from the current 99.
Confirmation of the benefits change isn’t likely for about a month and implementation details have yet to be worked out, he said.
Gov. Jan Brewer’s administration and legislators have discussed the possibility of changing the state’s “look back” formula so that those who receive extended benefits would still get them.
That would involve changing state law so the current employment rate is compared with one of the previous three years instead of one of just the past two years. No action was taken during the regular session that ended in April as lawmakers focused on other topics, including the state’s budget shortfall.
Senate President Russell Pearce, R-Mesa, said Tuesday the topic was discussed during a meeting with Gov. Jan Brewer and House Speaker Andy Tobin, R-Paulden, on possible special session topics.
Pearce said no decision was made during the meeting, but he expressed coolness toward making the possible change.
“I have natural concerns about paying people to sit at home,” he said.
House Democrats in April called for action on the issue.
“Choosing not to make this fix could mean the difference between a laid-off middle-class father being unable to put food on the table and finding a job,” Rep. Debbie McCune Davis, D-Phoenix, said then.
In its monthly unemployment report, the Commerce Department said 10 of 11 sectors added jobs in April and that most sectors’ increases were above historic averages.
Nearly all of the new jobs were in the private sector, the department said.
The biggest gains were reported in construction (3,900 jobs), educational and health services (3,400) and trade, transportation and utilities (2,900), the department said.