A report Thursday showing the state’s jobless rate unchanged for May is concealing some good news in private employment.
On paper, overall employment slid by 8,100 between April and May. That left the seasonally adjusted unemployment rate at the same 8.2 percent as the prior month.
But a closer look reveals that private sector employment actually increased by 6,700 jobs. That, however, was more than offset by the loss of 14,800 government jobs.
Economist Rick Van Sickle of the state Department of Administration said these losses are mostly in the area of public and higher education, likely reflecting the normal summer layoffs that occur of support staff ranging from bus drivers and cafeteria help to substitute teachers.
But what happened this year is the school year in many districts and community colleges ended slightly earlier than has been the pattern — and is reflected in the normal seasonal adjustments made in the data.
Put another way, if those regular layoffs would have come a week later, the state’s adjusted jobless rate actually would have dropped.
There were a number of bright spots in the private sector.
Construction employment went up by 2,900 from April levels and now is 10,200 above the same time a year earlier. It still, however, remains about half of what it was at its peak in late 2007.
Retail trade employment also is up by 2,600 month-over-month — and 7,200 since last year — aided by a strong showing in hiring by department stores.
But there was a loss of about 4,800 jobs in professional services. Van Sickle said this likely reflects tax preparers shedding the temporary help they hired for the season.
He said that, overall, the state appears to be headed in the right direction.
In 2009, the state was losing jobs at a rate of 7.3 percent year-over-year. That improved to a negative 1.9 percent in 2010 and went into positive territory of 1 percent last year.
So far, Van Sickle said, the growth rate is averaging 1.8 percent from the same time a year earlier.
“So you can see it’s a gradual improvement, with some bumps in it,” he said.
Still, Van Sickle said the rate of recovery is “probably agonizingly slow for a lot of those people who are still looking for work.”
The unchanged official jobless numbers also mean that out-of-work Arizonans no longer qualify for unemployment benefits once they reach 79 weeks. A change in federal law said states had to have an average jobless rate of 8.5 percent from March through May to qualify for payments beyond that.
Arizona had an 8.6 percent rate in March, followed by the back-to-back 8.2 percent figures.