PHOENIX - State economists say Arizona will continue to add jobs for the balance of the decade. But for a lot of those jobs, the main qualification may be the ability to say, "May I help you?"
The projection came from the state Department of Administration as it announced Arizona added about 9,000 private-sector jobs between July and August. That wasn't enough to move the seasonally adjusted unemployment rate from 8.3 percent.
Arizona has managed to post year-over-year gains in employment exceeding 2 percent for the past three months, faster than the national average, said Aruna Murthy, the department's director of economic analysis. And the state's private-sector employment has been on the rise for six months.
But Murthy said nearly three-fourths of the jobs Arizona will create between now and the end of the decade will be positions that require only a high school education - or less.
The result, she said, is that a large percentage of all Arizona college graduates will leave the state to find work elsewhere.
Dan Anderson, economist at the Arizona Board of Regents, said the postgraduate retention figure is currently in the neighborhood of 75 percent, at least for students who were Arizona residents when they entered college. But close to 30 percent of students are from somewhere else and are more likely to leave once they have a degree.
Some positive news
Arizona's August unemployment numbers did have some particularly bright spots.
Jobs in retail trade are up by 1,000 over July and 7,300 over the same time a year earlier, likely helped by stores bringing on extra help for back-to-school sales.
The financial sector also did well. "This we think is the refinancing activity that's going on" as Arizonans take advantage of sharply lower home mortgage rates, Murthy said.
There are also more people working in the field of renting and leasing homes and apartments. That could be due to investors who bought foreclosed homes at bargain-basement prices now working to find tenants, she said.
But long term, Murthy said the real growth will be in the service trades, the jobs where a college education is not required - and the jobs pay less than the median wage.
The biggest demand will be in retail sales. Murthy figures the state will need 22,692 new workers in that area between 2010 and 2020, plus another 28,332 to replace those who move on or find work elsewhere.
But 2010 wage figures for Arizona, the most recent available, show those jobs pay a median of just $10.12 an hour. That works out to slightly more than $21,000 a year - assuming the jobs are available year-round.
By contrast, the median wage for all jobs in the state is $15.89 an hour, or about $33,000 a year.
Cashiers also will be in big demand - at $9.19 an hour 2/3 along with waiters and waitresses, whose median wage is $8.69.
That beats what workers in food preparation, including fast food, are paid by 25 cents an hour.
Median income declines
Murthy's analysis came the same day, Thursday, that the U.S. Census Bureau released data on median household income.
Arizona's median household income, which was $48,108 in 2010, slid by 2.9 percent last year, to $46,709. That rate of decline is more than twice as much as the national average of 1.3 percent.
And a separate Census Bureau report showed that the number of people in Arizona living in poverty jumped half a percentage point between 2010 and 2011, to slightly more than 1.2 million. That represents 19 percent of the state, compared with 15.1 percent nationally.
"It's a low-wage state"
Still, Murthy said Arizona's 2-plus percent annual job growth is nothing to sneeze at, given that it's faster than the national average.
"I always try to think, 'It could be worse,' " she said. "We at least have jobs" - even if they don't pay the best. "It's a low-wage state - nothing to deny there."
Anderson agreed with Murthy that wages in Arizona are low, at least in part because of the types of jobs we have. The key is figuring out how to attract major manufacturers to Arizona, he said.
One of the problems, Anderson said, is that for years Arizona told companies that the state is a low-cost place to do business. He said that approach runs counter to the idea of creating more high-wage jobs - and, moreover, probably no longer works.
"When you're in an international economy, when you're competing against other countries whose incomes are extremely low compared to us, that's not a very good marketing approach," Anderson said. "Let's compete on quality; let's compete on innovation; let's compete on thoughts and those products that are high-value."
Murthy said some industries with higher wages are thriving in Arizona, such as aerospace. She cited industry giant Honeywell. "They hire quite qualified, well-educated people," she said. But Murthy said Honeywell just doesn't have enough jobs to offset all those lower-wage positions.
There's another factor at work in depressed wages, she said: People desperate for jobs will take what they can get, even if they are overqualified and won't get paid very much.
"If it comes to a fine line of feeding your family ... if it were me I would take a job for a low pay until I can find something better," she said.
(Not seasonally adjusted unless otherwise stated)
Area or Aug. July Aug.
county 2012 2012 2011
Arizona 8.3% 8.3% 9.5%
U.S. 8.1% 8.3% 9.1% (seasonally adjusted)
Cochise 8.2% 8.2% 8.9%
Maricopa 7.3% 7.3% 8.6%
Pima 7.6% 7.7% 8.6%
Pinal 9.0% 9.2% 10.6%
Santa Cruz 18.9% 18.3% 19.4%
Source: Arizona Department of Administration
ARIZONA JOB GROWTH
Job openings Median hourly
Occupation 2010-2020 wage for 2010
Retail salespeople 51,024 $10.12
Cashiers 43,164 $9.19
Waiters and waitresses 42,972 $8.69
Customer service representatives 38,640 $14.76
Food prep/serving workers, including fast food 33,480 $8.44
Registered nurses 26,250 $33.11
General office clerks 24,396 $12.94
Laborers, freight, material movers 20,664 $11.19
Landscaping and groundskeeping workers 19,536 $10.29
First-line supervisors of office and support workers 17,412 $22.22
Janitors excluding maids and housekeepers 16,980 $10.14
Home health aides 14,208 $10.36
Sales reps, wholesale and manufacturing 14,208 $24.62
Carpenters 13,344 $18.80
Heavy truck, tractor-trailer drivers 13,188 $19.27
Accountants and auditors 12,612 $26.34
Restaurant cooks 11,400 $10.48
Bookkeeping, accounting, auditing clerks 11,376 $16.54
Security guards 11,244 $11.05
Construction laborers 10,908 $13.16
Medical assistants 8,724 $14.74
Personal and home care aides 8,064 $10.05
State median wage $15.89
Source: Arizona Department of Administration