White House touts ‘robust’ Arizona economy; critics call that half the picture

The Biden administration said this week that Arizona, and the rest of the U.S., are benefiting from a robust economy, with low unemployment and rising wages. Critics say that may be true, but it ignores record high gas prices and soaring inflation that is hitting people when they shop for food, clothes – or just about anything else. /File photo by Molly Bilker/Cronkite News

BY CRONKITE NEWS | NEETISH BASNET

 Despite rising inflation and high gas prices, White House officials insisted this week that Arizona is sharing in the nation’s “robust” economic recovery, with low unemployment, and expanding wages in the state.

The call with reporters by White House Council of Economic Advisers Heather Boushey and Jared Bernstein on Monday was part of an administration messaging effort to highlight gains in all 50 states. Beside pointing to several positive indicators, they also said the economy under the Biden administration is well-suited to absorb any “shocks and crises.”

“We came out of this recession so quickly and so robustly,” Boushey said. “We’ve been able to create a lot of resilience in the U.S. economy over the past year or so.”

Critics took issue with the administration’s assertions, saying consumers may not share that view of a flourishing economy.

“I don’t think that Arizonans feel that the economy is doing well when they’re paying $5 a gallon for gasoline, and when the cost of getting groceries goes up every time you go to the supermarket,” said T.W. Arrighi, a National Republican Senatorial Committee spokesperson.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics said the Phoenix-Mesa-Scottsdale area saw a one-year inflation rate of 11% in April, well above the national rate of 8.3% for that month. Gas prices in Arizona hit the highest-recorded average price at $5.181 on Wednesday, according to AAA.

Bernstein said that while “we completely recognize and are doing all we can to help ease the price pressures that families face, we shouldn’t lose sight of the strong backdrop that is helping families to cope with that challenge.”

“Imagine trying to meet this price of the pump issue with an unemployment rate that was multiples of that,” he said.

A White House fact sheet released Monday on Arizona showed that the state added 152,500 jobs since January 2021. The biggest growth came in the trade, transportation and utilities sector, which added more than 38,000 jobs in the last year, the report said.

According to the White House, Arizona’s real gross domestic product was 6.2% higher in the fourth quarter of 2021 than the same period of 2020. In financial services and real estate, the state’s largest business sectors, real GDP in the fourth quarter grew by 7.5% over the previous year, compared to 3.0% in 2020 and 4.9% in 2019.

The job gains in Arizona might not provide the full picture, though, said George Hammond, director of the Economic and Business Research Center at the University of Arizona. He noted the state has so far only been able to replace the jobs lost during the first two months of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Hammond said Arizona still needs an additional 134,000 jobs to catch up to the strength of the pre-pandemic labor market.

“We’re going to need to see much faster labor force growth in the future if we are going to get back on that prior trend,” Hammond said. “We’ll need to see more people participating in the labor market or people moving to the state. Without that, we’re really going to struggle to get back to that trend.”

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