State’s jobless rate ticks up even as jobs stay unfilled | News

The state’s jobless rate ticked up again last month – the third time in four months – even as the national rate dropped.

But Doug Walls, the labor market analyst for the Arizona Office of Economic Opportunity, said he’s not seeing anything causing him great concern. He noted the 3.7% seasonally adjusted unemployment rate, while up two-tenths of a percent from August, is still below the state’s pre-pandemic average.

Some of that is job creation in Arizona, up by 102,500 since last year. Growing even faster is the number of people in the labor force, both employed and not.

A household survey last month showed total employment approaching 3.5 million – up by 3,242 from August.

But the labor force increased by 11,717. So more people available to work, whether by reentering the labor market or moving to Arizona, translates to a higher unemployment figure.

And Walls said a separate report shows there are close to two open jobs for every unemployed person. “So I think the labor market is still tight,’’ he said.

“There are employers that are looking for employees,’’ Walls continued. “They still are not able to find them.’’

Average hourly wages in Arizona hit $30.57 in September. That’s up 7.8% from the same time a year earlier. By contrast, wages on the national level are up 4.9% year over year, though the average of $32.40 is still higher than the state.

Still, costs at the state level are eating up pay increases at an even faster rate.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics said the September consumer price index for Maricopa and Pinal counties — the only are in Arizona they measure — was up 13% from the same time a year earlier. That is being driven by the price of gasoline, energy prices and housing, especially for renters where costs are up 21.4%.

One area of the economy that may bear watching is the construction industry.

Sharply higher mortgage rates appear to be finally driving housing prices down in Arizona.

The median listing price of a home in the state dropped last month to $477,500, down $12,000 from the prior month.

And while that’s still 6.2% higher than the same time a year earlier, data from showing a continuing decline from earlier this year when the average his $520,950.

Housing starts, as measured by the number of new building permits, decreased 2.8% in August, the most recent figures available.

“With interest rates increasing, that does impact the monthly mortgage rate that a buyer would have to pay,’’ Wells said. “So individuals that might have been able to afford a house when interest rates are low, they might either be thinking twice about that.’’

And Walls said buyers might be holding off on making a purchase. But all that could reduce the number of people needed in construction.

“We haven’t seen it yet,’’ Walls said. “But we have to wait and see where construction employment goes from here.’’