The state’s seasonally adjusted jobless rate ticked down a tenth of a point in March in what, by all indications, was a pretty unremarkable report.
On one hand the state’s construction industry continues to boom, adding 2,800 jobs last month and 16,700 in the past year. That latter figure was enough to post a 10.8% year-over-year gain.
But Arizona also lost 900 jobs last month in wholesale and retail trade.
On an annual basis the biggest losses were in areas that have now become expected: stores that sell furnishing, clothing and accessories. These are sectors of the economy that have been hardest hit by competition from online retailers.
Overall, the state added 7,100 private sector jobs in March. And that was enough to drop the unemployment rate to 5.0%.
Arizona still remains far above the national jobless rate of 3.8%. But Doug Walls, director of labor market information for the state Office of Economic Opportunity, said that’s not an indication of weakness.
It comes down to how the numbers are calculated: The state determines how many people are working and how many are looking for work.
Walls said the number of people entering the workforce in Arizona, whether as first-time workers or people moving here, is much stronger than the rest of the country. In fact, the month-over-month growth in the number of people in the workforce — working or looking — is up 3.4% in Arizona in the past month versus just 0.8% nationally.
Put all that together in the formula and the Arizona jobless rate is going to be higher than the rest of the country.
One thing that may bear watching in the coming months is employment in both wholesale trade as well as transportation and warehousing.
Federal customs and border officials have stopped inspecting commercial trucks on Sundays, diverting the staffers to help deal with the surge of migrants.
That will most immediately affect the flow of produce from Mexico. But it also could slow the flow of Arizona goods south of the border.
And none of that takes into account the possibility the Trump administration will redeploy other federal employees along the border, further slowing the flow of people and goods.