There is a reason Tucsonans may not feel the market improvements economists have been describing in hopeful tones.

Unemployment statistics are not as simple as they may seem.

Although Pima County's unemployment rate dropped from 7.3 percent to 6.3 percent from January to May, the number of people in the local workforce was also on the decline.

In the first five months of the year, the civilian labor force - that is, people actively looking for work in the past month - dropped by about 10,100 people.

The number of people who are employed declined, as well - by 4,600.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics prepares an alternative unemployment figure, which includes discouraged workers who have ceased looking for work, counting themselves out of unemployment measures even if "unemployed" is how they would describe their situation.

Under the broader definition - U6 in technical terms - the unemployment rate in Arizona was 15.9 percent in 2012, 1.2 percentage points above the nationwide average.

Broad unemployment peaked at 18.4 percent in Arizona in 2010, the year after the recession officially ended. And it stayed high, beginning to shrink the distance to the national average only a year later.

John Williams, an economist who has developed a still broader measure of unemployment, thinks even that U6 measure is too confining - and too optimistic.

His economic model incorporates long-term discouraged workers, and it shows that the number of people who would describe themselves as unemployed has continued to grow.

He published his analyses at

Preliminary June data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics does not make the picture look much rosier.

The average weekly wage in Pima County was $795 compared with the national average of $903 and the Maricopa average of $905.

The increase of 0.4 percent Pima County residents saw in their average wages over the previous year ranked Tucson 211th among metropolitan areas.

Pima County's preliminary unemployment rate was pegged at 7.5 percent in June, a jump of more than 1 percentage point from the year before.

But at the same time, about 2,400 more people joined the labor force, a lone possible note of optimism.

Contact reporter Carli Brosseau at or 573-4197. On Twitter: @carlibrosseau