Arizona’s jobless rate continues to decline but there are indications that the recovery may be losing air.
On paper, the state gained 10,900 jobs between November and December. That was enough to drive the seasonally adjusted unemployment rate down two-tenths of a point, to 4.8 percent.
The last time the rate was that low was February 2006, said Doug Walls, research administrator for the state’s Office of Economic Opportunity.
But the year-over-year growth in employment, which had been running close to the 3 percent range earlier in 2016, logged in last month at just 1.2 percent. That’s below the national figure of 1.4 percent.
Walls, however, said he’s unwilling to draw any conclusions from the new numbers.
On the positive side, he noted that Arizona has recorded job growth for the past six years.
“So we’re entering the seventh year of employment expansion,” Walls said. And he said most of the state’s economic sectors are showing positive numbers.
“We will have to wait and see if we continue to see a slowdown in the over-the year growth,” he said. But Walls said he considers Arizona’s 1.2 percent growth to be “right in line” with the national figure.
There are some bright spots.
Walls said that the average wage in Arizona is now $24 an hour. He said while that’s still below the $26 national figure, it is growing at a rate of 3.3 percent versus 2.7 percent for the rest of the country.
And there’s more to that increase than just people getting paid more.
“Wages are a good indicator of the competitiveness of the job market,” Walls said. “We could presume that employers are competing more for the talent that is available.”
The state’s health care sector, which was virtually unaffected by the recession, continues to grow by leaps and bounds. Employers added 8,500 workers in the last year, a 2.9 percent increase.
What also continues to grow is the lower-paying sector covering bars and restaurants. It added 10,300 workers year-over-year, equal to a 4.7 percent growth rate.
Conversely, retail trade employment continues to limp along, adding just 100 workers since last December.
Walls said, though, this isn’t just an Arizona phenomenon but reflects changes in the overall economy as shoppers move their business from brick-and-mortar retailers to online suppliers.
It’s also true that manufacturing employment is lagging nationwide. But Arizona is being hit particularly hard among the companies that make computers and electronic parts, with employment in that sector dropping by nearly 5 percent in the past year.