PHOENIX — The state’s seasonally adjusted unemployment rate remained at 5.1 percent in February as the number of jobs created pretty much matched the number of people looking for work.
Pima County’s jobless rate fell to 4.5 percent from 5.4 percent in January on a seasonally unadjusted basis.
Overall, Arizona added 18,500 private sector jobs between January and February. That brings private sector employment up to nearly 2.5 million, a 3.1 percent year-over-year increase.
The strongest annual growth came in the construction sector which added another 1,900 jobs in February, boosting the number of workers 10.2 percent from the same time last year.
Doug Walls, director of labor market information for the state Office of Equal Opportunity, said one good sign for that industry has been a nearly steady increase in the number of new building permits issued in the state.
Still, there’s a long way to go to the point where Arizona’s construction industry was prior to the recession — if it ever gets there.
At its peak there were 244,300 people working in that sector, comprising one job out of every 11 in the state.
That was at a time when growth — the premise that more and more people would be moving to Arizona — was the prime driver of the economy.
The recession brought a halt to all that, with migration to the state slowing to a drizzle.
More significant, home builders were stuck with a bunch of homes they built “on spec,” with no specific buyer lined up for it. And many of the people who had invested in single family homes walked away when they found that what they owed was more than the property was worth.
The latest report puts construction employment at 168,100. And that is less than 6 percent of total employment which may be a more balanced economy.
Other sectors are picking up.
While manufacturing remains just 7 percent of the state economy, it is growing at an annual rate of 3.9 percent. That compares with a 1.8 percent year-over-year increase nationally.
Arizona’s health care sector, which never was really hit by the recession, also continues to show growth, potentially fueled by the state’s increasing population of the elderly.
In fact, employment by nursing care and residential facilities is up 7.5 percent in the past year.
The weakest part of the economy remains retail trade which lost 2,400 jobs last month; year-over-year employment is up just 1,900 workers.
Once again the employers who compete with online retailers showed the most vulnerability, with actual declines in the past year in the number of workers for stores that offer clothing and accessories as well as furniture and home furnishing outlets.