PHOENIX - If the numbers ultimately prove accurate, Arizona had a lackluster October in terms of job growth.
New figures from the state Department of Administration show the state added 9,500 jobs last month in the private sector.
That was enough to trim the state's jobless rate to 8.1 percent, down from 8.2 percent in September and 9.2 percent in October 2011.
On a seasonally unadjusted basis, Pima County's unemployment rate rose slightly to 7.1 percent from a revised 7 percent in September, and 8.1 percent in October 2011.
But the number of jobs added statewide last month was far below the nearly 18,000 jobs added between September and October of 2011.
And the typical October month-over-month growth for the last decade - including the recession - is 11,600.
State economist Aruna Murthy said the numbers appear a bit out of kilter.
She said this is particularly true in the leisure and hospitality industry - everything from entertainment and recreation to hotels and restaurants - which should normally be growing this time of year. Instead, it lost 500 jobs.
"It's very contradictory to anything that's happened in the past," she continued. Murthy said she wants to monitor the situation for several months before deciding if there's a real trend in the works "or just an aberration."
The issue, she said, may come down to how her agency computes the numbers by surveying employers around the state.
"Although we target the same employers every month, the responses could vary," Murthy explained.
For example, one month might produce just a 40 percent response rate versus 60 percent in another month.
The other sector of the economy where Murthy is reviewing the numbers is in health care. She said employment in that sector, one of the healthiest in the state, should be going up this time of year; it's not.
Even with all that, Murthy said there were enough jobs added in other sectors of the economy to trim the state's seasonally adjusted unemployment rate by a tenth of a point, to 8.1 percent.
That includes a particularly strong month in retail employment as companies begin to gear up for seasonal sales. In fact, Murthy pointed out, Arizona's year-over-year retail employment grew 2.1 percent versus just 1.0 percent for the country at large.
The state also benefited from the addition of 2,100 jobs just last month in construction.
Murthy pointed out that, even if the month-over-month figures may be subject to question, the overall trend is good. She said that the number of people working last month in the private sector in Arizona - now more than 2.05 million - is 2.2 percent above the same time a year earlier.
Potentially more telling, she said, is that this is the eighth consecutive month of year-over-year gains above that 2 percent figure. That she said, "clearly suggests the private sector is gaining jobs and things are improving through time."
Unemployment rates for selected areas (county figures are not seasonally adjusted and reflect seasonal hiring surges)
Area October 2012 September 2012 October 2011
Arizona 8.1% 8.2% 9.2%
U.S. 7.9 7.8 8.9
Cochise 7.8 7.7 8.4
Maricopa 6.6 6.8 8.2
Pima 7.1 7.0 8.1
Pinal 8.5 8.3 10.1
Santa Cruz 18.4 17.7 19.2
Source: Arizona Department of Administration