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Metro Tucson adds 7,700 jobs year over year

Metro Tucson added an estimated 7,700 jobs over the past year thanks largely to strong hires at construction firms, restaurants and bars and health care and professional businesses, the Arizona Office of Economic Opportunity reported Thursday.

And after many months of landing at or near the bottom of Arizona's metro areas for job gains, metro Tucson is now landing more in the middle, comparing the workforce for this June with the same month last year.

The over-the-year 2.1 percent increase in jobs put Tucson behind Lake Havasu City-Kingman, 4 percent; Phoenix, 3.1 percent; Arizona, 2.6 percent, and Prescott, 2.4 percent.

But it was ahead of the U.S. average, 1.6 percent; Flagstaff, 1.5 percent, and Yuma, 1 percent. Sierra Vista-Douglas lost almost one percent in the year-over-year comparison.

Arizona added 70,700 jobs over the year, and its unemployment rate was unchanged from 4.7 percent, from May to June. That is higher than the latest U.S. rate of 4 percent.

But the jobless rate for Tucson rose sharply to 4.5 percent in June from 3.6 percent in May, apparently because it is especially reliant on seasonal local school jobs that decline when the school season ends.

Public school jobs are lumped into a broad government category that includes federal, state and local government workers. Every year those numbers fall from May to June when schools, colleges and universities let out and then increase when school resumes in late summer or fall.

And while every metro area in the state recorded declines in government jobs from May to June, the loss in metro Tucson was 11.4 percent — the highest in the state.

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That underscores what economists have been saying about Tucson being more reliant on taxpayer-supported jobs than other metro areas in the state.

Public schools also may be losing jobs to private schools. At the state level, educational services, a broad category that includes private schools, added 5,000 workers over the year (June 1017 to June 2018) , for a 9.1 percent gain.

Local schools lost 1,900 employees, for a 1.7 percent loss in that time. Those numbers weren't available for Tucson.

But while Tucson lost government jobs over the month, it still had 900 more government jobs in June than a year earlier, largely because of more state government education jobs, perhaps at the University of Arizona.

All these numbers are estimates based on surveys of businesses and households and are subject to annual revisions in March when more accurate federal data is incorporated.

Population and housing growth drive construction jobs

Arizona continues to surpass the nation in adding construction jobs. Those jobs grew over the year by 14,600 (10 percent) in the state, 13,100 (11.4 percent) in metro Phoenix and 1,100 (6.9 percent) in metro Tucson.

The state has recorded stronger construction growth than the nation for the past three and a half years, said Doug Walls, research administrator for the Arizona Office of Economic Opportunity.

He said a major reason is that Arizona continues to attract new residents who want houses. Arizona's population has grown almost 2 percent over the past six years, while the U.S. growth has been just .7 percent.

Arizona also had a large increase in home ownership rates from 2016 to 2017 and is now about even with the national rate of 64 percent.

Housing prices are also rising.

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The median sales price in metro Tucson was $212,000 in June, according to the Tucson Association of Realtors. While that is lower than $216,500 in May, it is an increase of 3.4 percent from June 2017.

And the last June that saw a median as high as $212,000 was in 2007, when it reached $225,000 before sliding towards recession lows.

Other Tucson employment strengths

In addition to construction, these are other areas of strong employment growth, with the numbers of jobs and percentage growth over the past year.

  • Restaurants and bars: 2,400, 7.6 percent
  • Health care: 1,000, 2 percent
  • Professional and business services: 1,000, 1.9 percent
  • Manufacturing of aerospace products: 900, 7.4 percent
  • Transportation, warehousing and utilities: 700, 6.4 percent
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