Arizona's jobless rate dropped three-tenths of a point in January from the month before.

At least that's what state officials think right now.

The 8.7 percent unemployment rate announced Thursday is the same rate that the same officials had said was the figure for December.

Since that time, however, the statistics have been through an annual "benchmarking'' revision, with federal and state agencies revising earlier numbers based on what they now say is better information. So, as of now, the official December unemployment rate is being pegged at 9.0 percent.

But that isn't necessarily the last word. Future revisions are possible -- and for years to come.

In fact, Aruna Murthy, director of economic analysis for the state Department of Administration, said it now appears that Arizona's economic condition more than two years ago was worse than thought -- and worse than reported.

With the latest revisions, the jobless rate in November 2009 was 10.8 percent. That's four tenths of a point higher than the revised peak which was announced just a year ago.

And the original November 2009 figure, announced at that time, was 9.3 percent.

Murthy said such adjustments are inevitable.

"It's all a sample-driven methodology,'' she said. And Murthy said the sample size used to compute the numbers is not very large.

"We have to look at the sample and, given that we are trying to do all the numbers based on samples, that's the story at that given time on how we see it,'' she explained of the monthly reports.

"Subsequent to that we see changes,'' Murthy continued. "And then we adjust that to account for the changes.''

In pure numbers, the state lost 34,300 jobs between December and January. But Murthy said that, all things considered, that's good news: The average drop at this time of the year is 59,700.

There were obvious job losses in retail trade, with stores shedding the seasonal help they had hired. The number of people working at private schools also dropped, as did employment at bars and restaurants.

But across the board, every segment of the state's economy was employing more people in January than it did a year earlier.

Total year-over-year employment is up by 37,800, a 1.6 percent increase. And even with the normal January reductions, the number of people working in retail trade is 2.3 percent higher than at the same time last year.

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