The state's jobless rate jumped a bit last month -- maybe.

New figures Thursday from the Department of Administration set the seasonally adjusted unemployment rate for December at 7.9 percent. That's up a tenth of a point from November.

The number of people employed went up. But Aruna Murthy, the agency's director of economic analysis, said Thursday the number of people out looking for work went up more.

Hence the increase in the rate.

Even with that explanation, though, Murthy said there may be less to the numbers than it appears.

She pointed out that the reports which come from a survey of employers show total retail employment dropped in December from the prior month. Murthy said that's never happened in 20 years.

So she believes the sample is flawed.

"It is that time of the year when people get busy with their businesses and they are not doing the usual sending off of the surveys and the reporting,'' Murthy said.

"It's not the economy has gone south,'' she continued. "No, it's not the case. And it's not that retail businesses have gone south.''

Even with those questions, Murthy said the December report still looks decent. She said the private sector added 4,900 jobs last month.

Still, that compares with the 10-year average of 9,100 jobs at this time of the year.

Looking at the longer term, though, Murthy said the total number of people working at Arizona private companies in December up by 57,700 from the same time a year earlier. That is a 2.8 percent increase which she said is relatively healthy.

That puts employment 2.8 percent above where it was a year earlier.

Looking at individual sectors of the economy, Murthy said bars and restaurants added 2,800 jobs last month. She said that is far above the average of 600 in December.

But hotel and motel employment was down by about 1,500.

The state's health care industry, which has pretty much bucked the recession as Arizonans continue to need medical attention, continues to grow, adding another 1,500 jobs in December.

Conversely, private colleges continue to shed staff, dropping total employment by 600.

Murthy cannot talk about individual companies. But it is no secret that the University of Phoenix has seen a double-digit drop in students in the last few years.

Some of that is due to the federal government tightening up on requirements for student loans. But Murthy said she would expect a drop in enrollment about now.

She said that during periods of recession and high unemployment, people tend to enroll in school to get new skills or advanced degrees. Then, as more jobs become available, those same people get back in the workforce.

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