Arizona's jobless rate dropped slightly last month

Arizona's jobless rate dropped slightly last month

Restaurants and bars added another 4,300 workers in October, with employment levels now 8,000 above last year. Employment in the sector has grown steadily since 2016, when Arizona adopted a staged set of increases in the minimum wage.

PHOENIX — The state’s jobless rate dropped a tenth of a point last month.

And you can credit at least some of that to the fact that Arizonans apparently like to dress up for Halloween.

The latest figures from the Office of Economic Opportunity show the state added 30,100 jobs between September and October. And about 2,200 of these were in the state’s financial sector.

Doug Walls, the agency’s labor market information director, said a big chunk of these were in rental and leasing, saying there’s actual evidence that a bunch of those were at shops that rent out costumes.

“Costume rental, formalwear, it’s a big business — in October,” he said.

Still, it took more than that to have the seasonally adjusted employment rate to decline to 4.8%.

All sectors of the Arizona economy showed month-over-month growth, or at least posted no losses.

Even department stores, which have been buffeted for years by an ever-expanding online economy, managed to add another 600 workers in October, though employment levels still remain about 400 less than the same time last year.

And Arizonans likely are still buying clothing and accessories at brick-and-mortar stores, as evidenced by the fact they hired 400 new employees. But that wasn’t enough to overcome the loss of 1,400 jobs in the past year.

Other items that may be less susceptible to online competition did better, with particularly strong growth among sellers of furniture and home furnishings.

Elsewhere in the economy, restaurants and bars continue to hire apace, adding another 4,300 workers in October, with employment levels now 8,000 above last year. And that occurred despite the hike in the state’s minimum wage from $10.50 an hour last year to $11.

In fact, employment in this traditionally low-wage sector has continued to grow steadily since the 2016 initiative that scrapped the $8.05 hourly wage for a staged set of increases. The final boost comes in January when the minimum goes to $12, with future increases pegged to inflation.

Employers can pay workers who earn tips $3 an hour less, with the proviso that their tips have to bring them up to the minimum.

Overall, wages throughout the Arizona economy are up 4.1% since last year, compared with 3.0% nationally.

But that involves more than just a higher minimum wage, a factor that likely pushes up the salaries of those who were earning more. Walls said it’s reflective of the state’s improving economy, with jobs being created as fast as people enter the workforce.

“Overall, when you’re seeing employment growth, wages tend to follow that if the workforce availability is scarcer,” he said.

One note of interest is that the economy in Cochise County is showing signs of life, with the lowest number of people unemployed — meaning looking for work — since April 2018.

Walls said there was a big jump in employment in professional and business services, everything from administrative jobs to those working for employment services companies, which added 200 people last month. And while that doesn’t seem like much, it makes a big different in a small county where the total number of people working in that sector is only 4,000.

Employment in construction and mining also is up 11.8% in the past year, with a 9.8% annual boost in the number of people working for state and local government.

On Twitter: @azcapmedia

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