[SUNDAY FEATURE] Jobs in Arizona grew for 112 consecutive months, then coronavirus hit. This is how the economy is changing

Coronavirus economic impact concept image

By Ryan Randazzo and Russ Wiles | Arizona Republic 

Before the widespread business shutdowns, canceled flights, closed hotels, empty ballparks and other fallout from coronavirus, Arizona had one of the strongest state economies in the nation.

But overnight, some of the state’s economic bright spots — like the hospitality and retail industries — became the hardest hit by the pandemic. Meanwhile, others like construction and trucking are so far not affected as badly.

The pandemic has brought an abrupt end to the state’s 112 consecutive months of job growth, though the economic engine isn’t entirely switched off. Some industries carry on, albeit with additional precautions against the virus. Still, the overall jobs picture here has changed in a flash.   

Heading into the crisis in February, Arizona had an unemployment rate of 4.5%, and had added 79,000 jobs in the past year.

Now the jobless rate is expected to rise beyond 15% by July, according to research released Wednesday by the Economic Policy Institute, a national nonprofit focused on low- and middle-income workers.

“We had one of the best economies in the country,” said Lee McPheters, an economics professor at Arizona State University and director of the JPMorgan Chase Economic Outlook Center.

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McPheters said his department is modeling the anticipated impacts on the economy and that like the Economic Policy Institute, the expectation is for double-digit unemployment in the next three months.

Already the state is probably above an 8% jobless rate after nearly 90,000 people applied for jobless benefits last week.

 “That number is startling,” McPheters said.

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