PHOENIX — Arizona’s seasonally adjusted jobless rate ticked up two-tenths of a point last month as the state continues its efforts to recover from the pandemic-caused hit to the economy.
The 6.9% figure comes as the state Office of Economic Opportunity reports the state added 17,100 jobs between January and February, including 13,500 in the private sector.
At the same time, though, the number of people entering the workforce far outstripped the number of jobs created. That sent the unemployment rate up.
But Doug Walls, the agency’s labor market information director, said that’s a good sign.
“You see individuals more optimistic about their opportunities or new populations coming to the state and joining the workforce,” he said.
Still, the number of Arizonans working is 122,300 less than the same time a year ago, with losses pretty much across the board.
The one notable exception is in the segment of the economy that includes transportation and warehousing, much of that composed of the online shopping sites that Arizonans turned to during the COVID-19 restrictions and the trucks that delivered the items. It has added 18,800 jobs in the past year, a 16.8% increase.
All that, however, comes at the expense of many brick-and-mortar retailers.
Employment at department stores now is 12.2% less than a year earlier. And more than 1 job out of every 5 at stores that sell clothing and accessories is gone.
Also continuing to struggle is the state’s leisure and hospitality industry.
There are some signs of life.
Bars and restaurants added 2,500 workers in February. But that’s still 31,000 below where they were a year ago. On Thursday, however, Gov. Doug Ducey lifted pandemic-related restrictions on bars and restaurants across the state.
And while hotels and resorts hired 400 more people last month, total employment is still a third less than the same time last year.
Walls said he could not predict how much of that might change in the wake of the decision by Ducey to lift all restrictions on businesses. But he said there are indications, at least on the national level, that things may get better.
One of those are the number of people who are flying.
In early March of last year, the Transportation Security Administration was clocking nearly 2.2 million travelers a day. That dropped to fewer than 105,000 a month later.
And while there have been some ups and downs this year, the latest figure is more than 1.5 million daily.
The other indicator is how many people are going to restaurants.
OpenTable, an online restaurant reservations firm, watched the number of diners evaporate entirely in the first two months of the pandemic.
It still is below where it was in early February 2020. But Arizona reservations are down from that level by just 22.8% compared with 40% nationally.
Elsewhere in the economy, Walls reports a continued upward trend in the number of permits granted for new private housing units in Arizona.
Overall, Walls said Arizona has regained about 64% of the jobs it has lost since the beginning of the recession.