February employment gain indicates Arizona economy improving - East Valley Tribune: Business

February employment gain indicates Arizona economy improving

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Posted: Thursday, March 29, 2012 2:07 pm

Arizona posted its best February employment gain in years, a sign the state economy is really on the mend.

New figures Thursday from the state Department of Administration show the state added 27,900 jobs between January and February. Aruna Murthy, the agency’s director of economic analysis, said there has not been such a big jump since 2007.

That also bested the average February gain of 26,300 over the last decade.

But the seasonally adjusted jobless rate remained at 8.7 percent. That compares with 9.7 a year earlier.

One of the biggest gains last month came in the leisure and hospitality sector, where the number of people working shot up by 7,100. That includes 5,200 more people working at bars and restaurants.

Murthy said some of that may be an anomaly.

The survey of businesses used to construct the report was conducted in the second full week of February. Murthy pointed out that is the same week as the state’s centennial celebration, something she said likely led bars and restaurants to add staff, if only temporarily.

And she said there were other events at that time like the Scottsdale Festival for the Arts.

Still, she said the numbers look good, pointing out the normal February change in leisure and hospitality is less than 5,000.

Another 7,800 jobs were added in the professional and business services sector of the economy.

Other elements of the economy did not fare so well.

For example, retail trade employment slid by 3,200 between January and February. Murthy said that is typical for this time of the year, with job losses among most kinds of stores.

The big exception, though, was in building materials and garden supplies, potentially due to the mild weather providing more opportunities for repairs and working in the yard.

And despite the monthly losses, overall retail employment still is 5,000 higher than a year earlier.

Similarly, construction employment shed 900 jobs in February. Here too, though, there still were 4,600 more people working in this industry last month than the same time in 2011.

Overall, the number of people working last month was 42,600 more than a year earlier. But that still leaves Arizona employment about 270,000 below where it was at its peak at the end of 2007.

Murthy said that, overall, the indicators in the report lead her to believe that there are brighter times ahead.

“I have reason to believe that this trend will continue,” she said.

Gov. Jan Brewer wasted no time in claiming that the report is a vindication of her financial policies. In a prepared statement issued less than two hours later, the governor said the news “proves we are on the right track.”

“I intend to continue pursuing the policies I have championed since taking offices, policies that foster job growth by creating a strong workforce and keeping regulations lean and tax rates competitive,” the statement read.

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