A top state economist predicted Friday modest growth in jobs for the balance of this year and the next.
Aruna Murthy of the state Department of Administration figures Arizona will add 47,100 jobs this year and another 55,800 in 2013. That translates out to 2 percent for 2012 and 2.3 percent for the coming year.
That compares with just 1 percent job growth last year. And the numbers were running in the negative 8 percent range in 2009.
One of the biggest gainers overall is going to be the construction industry, which Murthy figured should see a double-digit growth rate over the two years. But she cautioned that there is really less to that number than it appears.
“The construction industry overall has shrunk to a point that any small gain appears to show up as a large percentage gain,” she said. “With us having lost 50 percent of the workforce during recessionary times, that’s a trend we are seeing.”
And even with a recovery, Murthy does not yet predict builders will be hiring a lot more people. Instead, she said, the increase will come in what she calls specialty trades.
“There is a growing need for maintenance and repair,” she said.
“We all know the story: People can’t sell their homes,” Murthy explained, with owners owing more on the property than they can get in a sale. “So they go the route of fixing and making repairs.”
In pure numbers, by the end of 2013 there will be about 123,800 people employed in construction. That compares with its peak of more than 247,000.
Overall, there should be slightly more than 2.5 million jobs in the state in 2013. That, however, is still 200,000 less than in 2007.
And Murthy said it would be wrong to expect the kind of job growth Arizona saw in the middle of the last decade any time soon.
“The recovery is taking its time,” she said. Murthy said it looks more like a U shape rather than a V shape.
“In my opinion, if I really look at my crystal ball, we will be at a new norm,” she said.
The key, she said, is population growth — or lack thereof.
Arizona grew at a rate close to 3.5 percent in 2005. In fact, the average change in population from 2001 through 2007 exceeded 2.8 percent.
In 2010 it dropped to close to zero and now is back to just 0.6 percent, which Murthy figures pretty much represents only births, with little in-migration to the state.
“I do not feel, unless there is a significant growth in population, will we reach points where we were right at the peak,” Murthy said.
There are several bright spots.
Murthy figures that the health care industry will continue to grow as Arizona’s population ages. She said the “baby boomers” are going to need more health care, with lots more jobs being added in doctors’ offices and hospitals.
She also predicts strong growth in the leisure and hospitality industry. Murthy figures as the national economy perks up a bit, that’s going to translate into more travel and tourism.
Not surprisingly, the strongest growth is forecast in the Phoenix metro area which includes Maricopa and Pinal counties. Murthy predicts a 2.3 percent job growth this year and 2.5 percent next year.
For Pima County, the estimate is a 0.9 percent job growth this year and 1.4 percent in 2013. And the figures are slightly better for the rest of the state, at 1.3 percent and 1.8 percent for this year and next.