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Arizonans seemed to be feeling better about economy, at least through February

Based on where jobs are growing in Pima County and elsewhere in Arizona, residents seem to be feeling better about the economy, at least through February.

More residents are apparently remodeling their homes, investing in trade or other private schools and changing jobs more often, according to February employment data released Thursday by the Arizona Office of Economic Opportunity.

Arizona added 63,900 jobs (2.3 percent) over the year, with metro Phoenix getting 60,000 of those, for a three percent growth rate. Metro Tucson added 4,500 (1.2 percent).

Manufacturing and construction continue to boom in the state.

But, of course, the state’s economy remains at the mercy of national and international economics. The proposed federal budget is likely to help Arizona because it increases defense and border spending. On the other hand, a possible international trade war probably wouldn’t help.

Arizona’s unemployment rate has ticked up for three months in a row to 4.9 percent in February. Doug Walls, research administrator for the state office, said that’s mainly because more recent graduates, new residents and others are looking for jobs. The unemployment rate is based on a survey asking people if they looked for a job in the past four weeks.

About 4,500 more metro Tucson residents were holding down jobs in February than they were a year earlier.

And more people moved here. The Census Bureau estimated Thursday that metro Tucson’s population grew by about 10,200 residents (one percent) from mid 2016 to mid 2017, to 1,022,769.  About 85 percent of those were domestic or international migrants and the rest were babies born here.

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Maricopa County grew by 74,000 (1.7 percent) in the year,  to reach 4.3 million. That numerical growth was the highest for any U.S. county.

Tucson’s unemployment rate

Metro Tucson’s unemployment rate remained unchanged at 4.7 percent from January to February.

The  region’s job growth of only 1.2 percent over the year put it  near the bottom of the Arizona’s major metro areas. But Pima County’s unemployment rate is the second lowest in the state, bettered only by Maricopa County’s 4.4 percent 

Consumers showing confidence

These are the highlights of Arizona’s February jobs report, or at least the more rosy parts.

Fixing up homes: While overall Arizona retail jobs grew by 1.8 percent (6,000 workers) in February, compared with the same month a year before, they grew by almost 10 percent for building material and garden supply stores. That represented an increase of 2,400 jobs gained over the year.

But in Tucson, the number of retail workers shrunk by 400 over the year. No separate numbers were provided for home improvement stores 

Private education: One of the biggest surprises was a 14 percent over-the-year jump (7,000 more jobs) in educational services. That includes private schools, trade schools and other educational companies. That data wasn’t provided for metro Tucson.

Job switching: Walls said national data shows that people are switching jobs at the highest rate (2.2 percent)  since the recession ended in 2009. That is typical in economic expansions.

“As individuals are feeling more confident in their ability to switch from one job to another, they do tend to quit their jobs at a higher rate,” he said.

Construction and mining

Construction is booming around the state, adding almost 10,000 workers over the state for a 9 percent increase over the year.  The increases range from 16 percent in the Lake Havasu City-Kingman area to 4.3 percent in Yuma. Tucson gained 1,100 construction workers for a 7 percent gain.

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And it’s likely to continue. Residential rental rates are at a historic low of 4.8 percent in the state, which Walls said is going to encourage more construction of apartments and condos. Home ownership in Arizona made an unusual high jump from 61.9 percent in January 2016 to 64.4 percent in January 2017.

“Home price indexes are increasing. One underlying reason could be a tightening of home supply, which would increase prices,” Walls said 

Natural resource and mining jobs remained unchanged at the state level but grew by 100 jobs (6.7 percent) in metro Tucson.

Also, aerospace products and parts manufacturing grew modestly in Tucson over the year, adding 200 workers, accounting for half the growth in Arizona. 

U.S. Rep. Martha McSally released a statement Thursday that said the $1.3 trillion federal budget proposed for the next seven months includes a number of provisions that could help Arizona, including an additional $103 million for new A-10 wings, a 2.4 percent raise for troops, millions of dollars for 90 miles of physical barriers along the Mexican border as well as more surveillance technology, sensors and border law enforcement officers.

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