Coronavirus causes Arizona's jobless rate to jump to 5.5% for the month of March

Coronavirus causes Arizona's jobless rate to jump to 5.5% for the month of March

From the April's Tucson-area coronavirus coverage: 1,200+ Pima County cases, stay-home order extended series

The biggest hit to employment in Arizona came in the leisure and hospitality industry — hotels, bars, restaurants and places of amusement — which alone shed 5,200 jobs.

The state’s jobless rate jumped a full point last month as Arizona gets the first taste of what is likely to be even worse numbers going forward.

New figures released Thursday, April 16, show that in March the state shed 7,400 jobs, setting the seasonally adjusted unemployment rate at 5.5%.

But the loss is just part of the picture. Doug Walls, the research administrator for the state Office of Economic Opportunity, said that employers typically add 10,700 workers between February and March.

And this is just the tip of the economic iceberg.

The March figures come from a survey conducted during the second week of the month.

That is before Gov. Doug Ducey issued his emergency orders closing some businesses he considered nonessential. And it is before he implemented his stay-at-home order, further reducing economic activity.

That leaves the question of how high Arizona’s jobless rate can get.

The 5.5% unemployment rate is based on nearly 197,000 people out looking for work with fewer than 3.4 million actually employed. That is 35,000 more than the month before.

But in the past four weeks alone nearly 350,000 people have applied for unemployment insurance.

Even using the February employment figures as a base, that means 506,000 people are now out of work. Factor that into the total state labor force — those working and those looking — and it produces a current unemployment rate of more than 14%.

Walls, however, declined to speculate, saying he will know more when the April numbers are released next month.

The biggest hit to employment in Arizona came in the leisure and hospitality industry — hotels, bars, restaurants and places of amusement — which alone shed 5,200 jobs even before the governor closed many of them. Those losses were so deep that employment levels in that sector are less than they were a year earlier.

It has been workers in these companies that have so far made up the largest segment of people seeking first-time jobless claims.

Other parts of the economy also started taking hits in March, including professional and business services. Walls said that includes temporary workers and the firms that hire them.

Arizona also began to see losses in the government sector, which includes public education. And that was before the governor and State Schools Chief Kathy Hoffman closed the schools and the three state universities shut down in-person classes.

However, the school closure order and legislation subsequently approved by Arizona lawmakers allows state aid to continue as long as the districts continue to provide education and keep people employed. That includes not only teachers to provide online classes and prepare assignments but also people like bus drivers who are being used to deliver lessons and, in some cases, food to students.

There were some bright spots in the March numbers, notably in the sector that encompasses trade, transportation and utilities. This includes not just retail stores but also the kind of warehouses for places like Amazon and trucking, all of which may get a boost with the closure of many brick-and-mortar stores.

What it also includes, Walls said, are grocery stores which began ramping up to staff for the increased demand.

On Twitter: @azcapmedia.

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