Az still 'digging out' from unemployment hole
WASHINGTON – Arizona lost more than 281,000 jobs from 2007 to 2009, and more than 8,800 businesses closed in the same time period, according to the latest Census numbers on county business patterns.
The state had the fifth-highest job loss among states, trailing only California, Ohio, Michigan and Florida, according to the Census Bureau’s County Business Patterns report. And it had the ninth-highest number of shuttered businesses.
Officials said the situation has improved since 2009, but that it’s slow going: The Arizona Office of Employment and Population Statistics said the unemployment rate has dropped from 10.4 percent in November 2009 to 9.1 percent in May 2011.
“We are digging out of a hole here,” said Frank Curtis, director of labor statistics for the state employment office.
At the economic peak in 2007, there were just over 2.4 million workers in Arizona but that number plummeted to 2.1 million by the first quarter of 2009, the Census reported last month.
The construction industry posted the largest job losses, shedding 90,465 jobs or 38 percent of its 2007 total, and seeing 1,340 firms, or 14.2 percent, go under. It was followed by management, administrative support and real estate industries.
David Jones, president of the Arizona Association of Contractors, says that the housing surplus is still looming over the state and residential and commercial surplus rates are still extremely high, driving down business for contractors.
“Our growth has come to a stalemate,” Jones said.
There were some bright spots in the data.
Thousands of jobs and scores of firms were added in healthcare, education services and utilities. There were even small gains in “industries not classified,” defined by the Census as small businesses that do not fit within a certain category. They added 29 jobs, to 231 employees in 2009, and added 34 firms.
Mining was the only category that saw both and increase and a decrease. Almost 9 percent of mining companies closed between 2007 and 2009, but the industry added 845 jobs, an increase of 7.6 percent. Mining observers said it could be attributed to mergers in the industry.
In terms of location, four rural Arizona counties posted the highest-percentage job losses in the state: Greenlee County lost 20.7 percent of its jobs from 2007 to 2009, Yavapai County lost 16 percent, Santa Cruz County suffered a 15.5 percent reduction and Mohave County saw a 14.7 percent cut.
Businesses that do not have a specific location were even harder hit: The report said they lost 41 percent of their jobs. These types of businesses include traveling sales teams and small businesses without offices.
Experts in on rural economics say that while the rural areas did not have massive housing surpluses — like the metropolitan areas of the state — they lacked significant job growth and were still hit hard by the economic downturn.
Thomas Combrink, a senior research specialist at the Rural Policy Institute at Northern Arizona University, said the crisis cleaned out the industries like construction and real estate by at least half in some rural areas.
“There you have entire neighborhoods that are fenced off, the development costs were not high, but when gas ran to $4 a gallon people could not afford to get to work,” Combrink said.
He said the saving grace for rural areas was that state and local governments employ over 50 percent of the population.
Contractors say the housing market is still a bust, and they see little progress in new residential or commercial construction on the horizon. But Jones is hopeful that the state will place itself among the forerunners in an economic recovery.
“We have to wait until that engine comes back,” Jones said.