New data shows minimal improvement in the local employment picture during the first three months of the year as the COVID-19 pandemic began abating and the state began easing restrictions on businesses.
At the same time, compared to statistics from the same period in 2020, the new numbers show that the county still has a ways to go to reach the employment levels that, even prior to the pandemic, were consistently among the worst in the state.
Santa Cruz County’s jobless rate hovered at just above 10 percent in each of the first three months of 2021, according to a report released last Thursday by the Arizona Office of Economic Opportunity. By comparison, the county’s unemployment rate in 2020 ranged from 7.3 to 8.8 percent during the first three months of the year.
In April 2020, the local unemployment rate nearly doubled to 16.9 percent as the COVID-19 pandemic and its associated restrictions on businesses took effect, then gradually settled to the 10-to-11.5-percent range by last October. This year, the hope is that the employment outlook will jump in a positive direction starting in April, though the ongoing U.S. travel restrictions at the border will likely have a lot to say about a local recovery.
In the lead-up to the second quarter, the new jobs report shows that more than 2,000 people sought unemployment benefits in Santa Cruz County during each of the months of January, February and March 2021, well more than the monthly average of 1,622 during the first quarter of 2020.
And the number of people officially counted as employed in the local economy hovered between 17,500 and 17,700 during the first quarter of 2021, compared to an average of 13,385 in 2020.
Still, there were some small signs of encouragement in the new jobs report.
The official number of people working in Santa Cruz County was higher in March 2021 than during either of the two preceding months. The number of people seeking jobless benefits was also slightly lower last month than during January and February, and the 10.3-percent unemployment rate in March was down six-tenths of a percentage point from February, and just below the 10.4-percent rate seen in January.
At the state level, Arizona’s seasonally adjusted unemployment rate decreased to 6.7 percent in March 2021 from 6.9 percent in February 2021, according to the report. At 10.3 percent, Santa Cruz had the third-highest unemployment rate last month among Arizona’s 15 counties, better than only Yuma (11.3 percent) and Apache (11.2 percent).
The U.S. seasonally adjusted rate decreased to 6 percent in March 2021 from 6.2 percent in February 2021.