PHOENIX — Private employers in Arizona added only 300 new workers last month, in what a state economist says is the smallest number of gains for any April in the last five years.
On paper, the state’s seasonally adjusted unemployment rate dropped two-tenths of a point, to 6 percent. But that number hides a much more downbeat picture of Arizona’s economy, said Aruna Murthy, director of economic analysis for the state Department of Administration.
One factor is that the jobless rate is based on a random survey of households, asking people if they are employed and, if not, are they looking for work.
But Murthy said the actual number of jobs created comes from a far more extensive survey of businesses throughout the state. And that paints a much different image than the pure unemployment rate.
Murthy also reports that wages in Arizona are stagnant — at best. While average weekly earnings nationally have continued to rise at a fairly steady rate, federal statistics for Arizona show a trend that is flat and, in some cases, actually declining in the last two years — even without considering inflation.
A key indicator of why that may be happening showed up Thursday as Comcast announced it will hire 1,100 for a Tucson call center. At the same time, the new jobless report shows the Tucson area shedding 1,300 private sector jobs, including 300 in the high-paying aerospace industry.
Still, Murthy said, call center jobs are better than adding no new jobs. “Any type of job allows people to spend money,” she said. “That has ripple effects across the economy. Whether it is a $10 (an hour) job or a $20 job, a job’s a job.”
But Murthy said the pattern of job losses in some sectors of the Arizona economy mirrors what she saw before the last recession. That makes her take notice.
“I wouldn’t say we are beginning to have a recession,” Murthy said. “But I just feel like there’s some slowing down happening in the economy.”
Of note is what’s happening in the retail sector, where close to one out of every five jobs are located.
“This sector is really dropping,” she said, adding that the trend has been downward for about a year.
“This used to be a strong sector for Arizona,” up in the area of a 4 percent year-over-year increase in employment, she said. But this past month, retailers shed 1,400 jobs, bringing the year-over-year growth rate down to 1.5 percent. That compares with 2 percent nationally.
“That concerns me a little bit,” Murthy said, given how much of the Arizona economy is dependent on retail jobs. “This is a sad showing.”
Murthy also said she is concerned about the state’s manufacturing sector, where there are 1,300 fewer people employed statewide now than a year earlier. That translates into a 0.8 percent decline, compared with a 1.6 percent increase nationally.