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Arizona employment rate inches down; construction still struggles

WArizona added 23,300 private sector jobs last month.

But many of them may just be temporary.

New figures show 10,700 of those jobs were in retail sales. Aruna Murthy, director of economic analysis for the state Department of Administration, said most of these likely are seasonal hires.

And another 5,800 were people working for temp help firms, positions that clearly are not permanent.

The bottom line was that the state’s seasonally adjusted jobless rate for November remained at 6.8 percent. That’s down a full point from the same time last year but still a point above the national unemployment figure.

Once again, the big disappointment has been the state’s beleaguered construction industry. It shed another 900 jobs in November, leaving total employment at barely more than 120,000. That’s 4,300 less than the same time a year earlier.

It also is 124,000 below the industry peak. And Murthy said that, given the economy, she doesn’t see any signs of a sudden shift in the trend.

“Even with the lowest interest rates that we have, people are not buying,” she said. And Murthy said much of the key will be with young people.

“We’re finding three generations in a household,” she said. “Until younger generations are able to find jobs where they are able to make a reasonable living to buy a house and they feel comfortable in that investment, I think you’ll continue to find construction not really a strong sector.”

The new report shows that more than 90 percent of the jobs added last month were in the Phoenix metro area which consists of Maricopa and Pinal counties. In fact, there may actually be some job losses elsewhere.

In Pima County, for example, a survey of private employers concluded they had added 1,500 jobs in November.

But a separate survey of individuals, akin to a poll done for the Bureau of Labor Statistics, showed the number of people unemployed – meaning looking for work – had gone up by 1,500.

Whatever numbers are believed, Murthy acknowledged that employment in the rest of the state is growing at a far slower rate than the Phoenix area.

She said much of that is a function of the fact that companies want to move to the Phoenix area. Murthy also said the area has a much more diversity of industry, meaning that hits to any one sector do not cause as much of a ripple.

By contrast, Murthy said Pima is dependent on a few major companies like Raytheon. And she said cutbacks in federal spending mean less defense spending on what these firms produce.

Overall, employment in the county’s aerospace industry has dropped by more than 5 percent since the same time a year earlier.

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