ARIZONA: Unemployment rate tumbled in January

Arizona employers made smaller job cuts in January than usual, helping send the state’s unemployment rate tumbling.

Over the past year, Arizona has added more than 78,000 jobs, enough for 3 percent growth in that time. That is well ahead of the nation’s 1.9 percent growth rate in the past 12 months and closer to Arizona’s history of above-average growth.

The state also moved tantalizingly close to reaching its pre-recession job peak. Arizona has been one of the slowest states to fill the job hole left from the Great Recession, but is now poised to do so nearly two years after the nation as a whole.

Dennis Hoffman, director of the L. William Seidman Research Institute at the W.P. Carey School of Business at Arizona State University, said the numbers, which include upward revisions to prior months, show Arizona’s economy seems to be gaining strength.

“There are bits and pieces of it that suggest a really good economy,” he said, noting better numbers in construction and manufacturing. “Never buck a solid real estate uptick.”

Arizona reached 3 percent growth over a 12-month span for the first time since December 2006, he said.

The burst of economic good news happened in a month when nearly every industrial sector in Arizona shrank due to post-holiday cutbacks. It also came as Wall Street posted one of its worst showings for January in recent years.

Arizona’s seasonally adjusted unemployment rate fell from 5.9 percent in December to 5.6 percent in January. Such one-month movement is rare, with only 17 months dropping at least that much in the past 40 years. Even so, the state remains well above the nation’s 4.9 percent unemployment rate.

Overall, the state lost 48,600 net jobs in January, led by losses in the trade sector. Public-sector workers, especially those in local education, also posted heavy cuts.

The financial activities sector was the only one to post gains, about 200 jobs statewide.

In many cases, however, the losses were smaller than typically seen since the recession ended in mid-2009.

Looking at the job numbers over the past 12 months helps account for seasonal variation, such as the burst of hiring ahead of the holiday shopping season and the layoffs that inevitably follow.

Compared with a year ago, nine of the state’s 11 industrial sectors have posted gains. The biggest change has come from the private education and health services sector, which added 19,700 jobs since January 2015. Only mining and government shrank in the past year.

Arizona seems to be one of the bigger beneficiaries of health-care-related employment in the country, growing 4.1 percent in the past year compared with the 3.1 percent mark nationally.

Over the past year, the state has more people in its labor market, more people working and fewer out of work who are seeking a job.

With January’s figures, Arizona had 2.7 million people at work and was less than 4,000 jobs short of reaching the pre-recession peak it set in December 2007, the month the recession began.

Arizona lost the second-largest share of its workers in the downturn and has been among the slowest to recover. The Phoenix area filled its job hole last fall, but in other parts of the state a full recovery is months, if not years, away.

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