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Metro Tucson's job growth may be better than state has been reporting

Although an Arizona office has reported weak job growth or slight losses in metro Tucson for most of 2017, more accurate federal numbers show that Tucson may be doing quite well.

A federal quarterly census of employment and wages says Pima County gained 2.1 percent more private jobs in the first six months of the year, while state surveys only showed a 0.5 percent growth in that time, the Arizona Office of Economic Opportunity reported Thursday.

That could mean a difference of about 4,500 jobs.

The monthly Arizona reports are based on surveys of households and about a third of the businesses in the state. The federal census, compiled by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics,  counts actual jobs and wages provided by every employer who pays unemployment insurance. It covers almost 95 percent of all jobs.

The state office on Thursday said its latest monthly surveys showed metro Tucson lost 2,600 jobs (0.7 percent) from November 2016 to November 2017. It was the only major metro area in the state to lose jobs — a pattern for months according to state reports.

The state in January will benchmark or revise its numbers to be more consistent with the federal data and report the results in March.

 “It is possible that some of those (state) estimates within Pima County and the metro Tucson area will be revised up and some of those losses will be wiped out,” said Doug Walls, research administrator for the state office.

Pima County tends to have a larger discrepancy between state and federal numbers than Maricopa County. Walls said he can’t explain why.

This is consistent with what University of Arizona economist George Hammond has been saying all along. He has maintained that metro Tucson's job picture is better than what the state surveys have shown and that the annual revisions will prove that.

On a bright note, the state also said Thursday metro Tucson added 2,200 jobs from October to November, 2017, mostly because of seasonal hires in stores and hotels.  Those monthly gains put it in fourth place behind Yuma (2 percent), metro Phoenix (1.3 percent) and Arizona (1.1 percent).

Arizona adding jobs

Arizona’s unemployment rate fell to 4.3 percent in November from 4.5 percent in October. The U.S. rate was unchanged at 4.1 percent, and Pima County’s rate also was unchanged at 4 percent.

Delving deeper, Walls said surveys show that the number of people entering the labor force continues to grow, and fortunately, enough jobs are being created to absorb them. People who have been working parttime are finding more fulltime jobs. Companies such as retailers and restaurants that had been turning to temporary agencies are hiring more people directly.

Young workers aged 16 to 19 are finding it easier to get jobs.

“The unemployment rate for those 16 to 19 has been declining fairly rapidly since the end of the recession,” Walls said.

In other highlights:

  • Arizona added 29,500 nonfarm jobs over the month, much more than the average post-recessionary (2010-2016) average monthly gain of 26,000 jobs.  That helped boost the state’s over-the-year gain to 44,000 jobs.
  • The sector gaining the most jobs in the state was construction, which added 8,300 workers over the year, for a 6.2 percent increase.  That was largely due to specialty trades such as electricians and plumbers and heavy construction like roadwork. Also, more homes are being built. The U.S. Census Bureau says Arizona ranks as the fifth fastest growing state, according to the most recent data.
  • Manufacturing also is doing well, with 4,100 workers added over the year. Arizona is adding workers in this sector at a faster clip than the United States.
  • But the computer and electronic industry is not doing as well, with a loss of 1,000 jobs over the year. Data processing and housing, a industry segment that was growing several years ago, appears to have stalled. Telecommunication workers are down by 5.6 percent over the year in the state.
  • Growth also continues strong in leisure and hospitality (restaurants, bars, hotels, resorts) , with 8,900 more workers added over the year, or 2.8 percent. Walls said that is in line with growth across the country. 
  • But with so many people switching to online shopping, retail employment continues to be weak. Arizona added only 1,000 retail workers over the year.

Tucson’s picture less rosy

The job sectors doing the best in metro Tucson are other services, 1.3 percent; leisure and hospitality, .7 percent; and financial activities, .6 percent.

Mining and natural resource jobs remained flat over the year, with just 1,000 workers. But government; health and private education; construction;  manufacturing; trade, transportation and utilities; professional and business services and information all lost jobs 

But again, all those numbers are subject to revisions in January.

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