Sunday, October 23, 2011

Arizona unemployment rate down in September

It's not happening fast enough for anxious job seekers such as Sequoia Parker, but Arizona's sickly job market is slowly starting to mend.

"I have been looking for work for a year and a half," said Parker, 27, a Mesa single mother who was at a job fair for holiday retail jobs this week. There are more job openings for administrative workers, but she said but the requirements are tougher than they used to be. "They want you to be bilingual and they want you to work swing shifts."

On Thursday, there were more positive, albeit subdued signs that the jobs market was gaining strength.

In September Arizona added 26,100 jobs compared with September 2010, a modest gain that nudged the unemployment rate down to 9.1 percent, the same level as the U.S. unemployment rate, according to a report released by the Arizona Department of Administration. The state's unemployment rate was 9.3 percent in August.

Last month was the first time since 2006 that Arizona private employers added more jobs in September than they eliminated. Private employers gained 4,600 jobs in September.

Back to school hiring at public schools and community colleges helped Arizona bulk up 19,600 jobs, the gains rippled across a broad range of sectors, including construction, hospitality, private education and health care.

"Thing are looking better," said state economist Aruna Murthy. "A lot of sectors are doing well."

Thursday's figures do not take into account the flurry of fall hiring at local retailers in preparation for the Thanksgiving, Christmas and winter holidays. Those temporary jobs usually appear in the October jobs report, which is released in November.

On Wednesday, 240 job hunters came to a job fair at Mesa Employment Services hoping to get one of those temporary jobs. Several said that they were unable to find work in their field but were hoping to land holiday work that would help sustain their families in the meantime.

"I am very happy to be here," said Robert Ramirez, 18 of Mesa, who said that he was optimistic that he would find a job. The high school senior has been looking for work for two years. For him, it's not just a financial issue: Ramirez said that he needs work to earn the additional credit hours that he needs to graduate. So far, even jobs as a busboy and dishwasher have been hard to find.

"I have put out a bunch of applications," he said. "I haven't heard anything back."

The the jobs report and other economic indicators suggest that retail hiring will be strong this month, said said, Beckie Holmes chief economist for Cox Arizona.

A "positive sign was the healthy increase in retail sales employment in September," Holmes said. Retail sales tax collections have been growing all year, too, she noted.

Another bright spot was construction. The state's battered construction industry gained 3,700 jobs a rise of 6.3 percent. While that is a positive sign, analysts such asMurthy cautioned that the state has a long way to go -- the state lost about 50 percent of its construction jobs during the downturn.

Some white-collar professions still are struggling to gain ground. Finance and business professional services, however, each lost 1,500 jobs.

"The economy still has a lot of jobs to gain to get back to health," Holmes said, "but this is one of the stronger reports we have seen in recent months and is hopefully a good sign for the rest of 2011."

by Jahna Berry The Arizona Republic Oct. 20, 2011 05:10 PM

Arizona unemployment rate down in September

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