Lisa Danka of the Arizona Department of Commerce discusses the latest Arizona unemployment numbers.
Ted Simons: Good evening, and welcome to "Horizon," I'm Ted Simons. Arizona's job numbers are showing a touch of improvement. The unemployment rate in August was 9.1%, down from 9.2% in July. Here now to talk about the numbers is Lisa Danka from Arizona's Department of Commerce.
Ted Simons: What's going on here?
Lisa Danka: It is a bit of a drop. We refer to it as being statistically insignificant because it's such a small drop,a tenth of a percent. We did have a seasonal gain of 19,700 jobs. It was the lowest seasonal gain for an August in the last 10 years. We think most of it was a result of the schools going back into session, the growth within the government sector, state government, universities and local government, the K-12 systems. There was quite a bit of growth in those two sectors. We also saw growth in the education and health care sector, which is where we see the child care services represented. We believe those two were related to back to school.
Ted Simons: Again, a little bit of encouraging numbers there but, considering the time of year, nothing too crazy?
Lisa Danka: No. We may see some additional impact in October, when we release the September numbers, of additional back-to-school and government. But it is better than where it had been going. A tenth of a percent decline after six months of .3, .4, .5% jumps.
Ted Simons: Indeed. You mentioned back to school and education and teaching and these sorts of things. Is it not true as well that a lot of folks looking for work right now are saying, it's time to go back to school and learn something. It's that time of year, I think I'll take classes and stop looking for work for the time being. Is that a factor?
Lisa Danka: It certainly could be. We hear those stories as well, that there are a lot of disaffected workers. There aren't many jobs being created in the economy so that is a very viable scenario for someone to have given up and go back and improve their skills.
Ted Simons: How about construction? A little bit of an uptick there?
Lisa Danka: Yes, and it's a hopeful sign, we hope. For the second time in a three-month period construction added 100 jobs. We saw those gains in the specialty trades. They have been going pretty strong, it appears, both because there are a lot of homeowners doing refurbishing, and also we think that perhaps the weatherization energy money from the federal stimulus program may be playing into it, as well, because there are a lot of folks working on weatherizing homes.
Ted Simons: What about other stimulus money? When is that going to start playing a factor in terms of the jobless rate?
Lisa Danka: We're hoping in October, when we release the September numbers, we will begin to see some impact in construction, particularly in heavy construction. That would be attributed primarily, I believe, to the road construction that has been funded with the stimulus. I talked with the -- our stimulus czar, if you will, Jim Apperson with the Governor's Office of Economic Recovery. He indicated those road construction projects are just beginning and money is just beginning to flow out there in the form of wages. So hopefully next month we will see some action there.
Ted Simons: Retail jobs: We keep hearing department stores are just getting hammered right now. Is that reflected in your numbers right now?
Lisa Danka: Well, it is. A lot is of loss is reflected in the home furnishing and fixtures types of stores. Home-building activity is probably part of it, that's where it would be. But retail overall is down, as well.
Ted Simons: How does Arizona stand nationally? It feels like we are at the center of the problem here. But there are folks out there with higher unemployment rates, correct?
Lisa Danka: Actually there are. We rank 30th in the country so there are 29 states with better rates than we do, but the rest of them have worse rates than we do. As a matter of fact, I brought some comparative statistics to kind of place us in a context. Michigan has the highest rate at 15.2%. Nevada is actually second at 13.2. These are rates released by the federal government last Friday. Rhode Island is at 12.8, and California and Oregon are at 12.2. So in the context, you know, although it feels like things are very difficult here, and indeed, we've lost over 311,000 jobs since the recession began in December of 2007.
Ted Simons: Then last question: Seems like most experts are saying these unemployment numbers will get worse before they get better. Your numbers kind of trending on that?
Lisa Danka: This might be an anomaly with this .1% dip.
Ted Simons: Sure.
Lisa Danka: But it would not be surprising if the rate continued to climb a little bit. Arizona's unemployment rate has traditionally peaked after a recession was over, several months in some cases. And that is because as more jobs are created in the economy, people begin to come back into the job pool and are looking for work. Then they get counted in the survey. We see the rate go up because there are more jobs and more people looking for them.