News Column

Yuma County Jobless Rate Hits 31.2 Percent

Aug. 17, 2012

Joyce Lobeck, The Sun, Yuma, Ariz.

At first glance, Yuma County's July unemployment rate of 31.2 percent, up from 28.1 percent in June, is disheartening.

That reflects 29,775 people who were unemployed and seeking work in July.

However, a closer examination of the numbers released Thursday by the Arizona Department of Administration shows a more complex picture.

Yes, there is a significant increase in the number of people who are unemployed from the month before -- 4,105 more jobless people in July than in June, according to the agency's monthly report.

That's almost the same number of additional people in Yuma County's labor force, which rose from 91,375 in June to 95,432 in July, a difference of 4,057.

The increase in Yuma County's labor force actually is a trend that has been occurring over the last several months, the state's unemployment report shows. In January, there were 85,728 people in Yuma County's labor force, 64,756 of them employed. While the number of employed has remained relatively flat over the months -- it's 65,657 in July -- the number of people in the labor force has increased several months so far in 2012. And so has the number of unemployed.

Just why is elusive.

One answer may be in the reduction of weeks a jobless person can now receive unemployment benefits, suggested Mercedes Mendivil, program administrator for Yuma Private Industry Council, the area's work force development agency.

Jobless benefits are expected to disappear for thousands of state residents in the coming months due to a change in federal law and Arizona's improving unemployment situation. Until recently, the federal government funded a program that allowed people unable to find work to collect benefits for up to 89 weeks. But the legislation says that those who have exhausted the first 79 weeks of benefits will be able to get continued aid only in states with an unemployment rate averaging at least 8.5 percent from March through May.

In recent months, Arizona's rate has been hovering around 8.2 to 8.3 percent.

"People are maximizing their benefits and coming in and saying they need a job now," Mendivil said.

In addition, she said, YPIC is seeing more veterans who are seeking work as the result of military reductions.

It may be a seasonal trend. And it could be that Yuma County's population is growing despite its high unemployment rate.

It could even be the way the Department of Labor collects data.

Whatever the cause of the area's high unemployment, there are a lot of people looking for jobs, Mendivil said.

YPIC's One Stop Center in Yuma has 24 computers for use by people seeking jobs, she said. Nearly every day they're full and there's a waiting list.

She noted there has been a big increase over the last five years since the Great Recession started in the number of people visiting YPIC's One Stop Centers. In fiscal year 2007-08, there were a total of 17,185 visitors. The next year there were 26,007 and in 2010-11, there were 29,525. In fiscal year 2011-12, there were 32,232 visitors.

Meanwhile, figures from the Department of Administration show a statewide seasonally adjusted figure of 8.3 percent unemployment. That is identical to the national figure for July.

But it is far below the 9.6 percent figure a year earlier.

Aruna Murthy, the agency's director of economic analysis, said this is actually the fifth straight month when year-over-year job growth in the private sector exceeded 2 percent. And while Arizona lost jobs between June and July, Murthy said that always happens -- and that this year's losses were only half the rate for the prior decade.

Overall, she said, the state is headed in the right direction.

"It's a real slow growth," Murthy said. "But, nevertheless, it's a growth that we are seeing."

While the state's jobless rate matches the federal figure, Murthy said Arizona is "doing considerably better" than the rest of the nation as a whole.

She pointed out that the number of people working this July versus the same time a year earlier is up 2.4 percent from June. By contrast, the national gain was just 1.4 percent.

The difference was even more marked in retail trade, where the state's 3.1 percent annual growth rate of employees dwarfed the 0.6 percent figure nationally. And even Arizona's leisure and hospitality industry had 3.3 percent more people employed this year than last, compared to just 2.0 percent for the rest of the country.

Howard Fischer of Capitol Media Services contributed to this report.

Area / July 12 / June 12 / July 11 United States / 8.3% / 8.2% / 9.1% Arizona (seasonally adjusted) / 8.3% / 8.2% / 9.6% Arizona (unadjusted) / 8.7% / 8.5% / 10.1% Counties (not seasonally adjusted): Apache / 20.3% / 19.4% / 20.6% Cochise / 8.2% / 8.1% / 9.1% Coconino / 8.7% / 8.3% / 9.4% Gila / 9.6% / 9.5% / 11.0% Graham / 9.7% / 9.4% / 10.9% Greenlee / 6.3% / 6.4% / 8.7% La Paz / 9.6% / 9.7% / 10.7% Maricopa / 7.3% 7.3% / 8.8% Mohave / 9.7% / 9.6% / 11.2% Navajo / 15.6% / 14.9% / 16.7% Pima / 7.7% / 7.6% / 9.0% Pinal / 9.2% / 9.2% / 11.0 Santa Cruz / 18.2% / 15.7% / 19.1% Yavapai / 8.8% / 8.8% / 10.2% Yuma / 31.2% / 28.1% / 30.9%

Source: Arizona Department of Administration

Source: (c)2012 The Sun (Yuma, Ariz.) Distributed by MCT Information Services

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