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The monthly rise and fall of unemployment in Arizona’s two biggest counties was almost identical in 2011.

With about 2 million people in its labor force, Maricopa County’s unemployment rate dropped from 9.1 percent in January 2011 to 7.7 by the end of the year. Pima County’s rate fell from 9.2 to 7.9 percent. Nearly 500,000 people work in Pima County, according to the Arizona Department of Administration.

Unemployment in all 15 counties dropped by at least half a percentage point, except in Yuma. Yuma County, which relies heavily on agriculture and seasonal workers, started and ended the year at 23.1 percent unemployment. In July, unemployment in its workforce of 99,000 topped 30 percent.

Graham County’s 2.5 percentage points decrease was the largest last year.

As a whole, Arizona’s unemployment rate fell from 9.6 percent to 8.7 percent, according to the ADA. Over the last decade, the lowest rate Arizona experienced was in 2007, when unemployment was under 4 percent.

Shortly after, the market crashed and two years later, it was above 10 percent.

AZ employment statistics Arizona unemployment,


In general, Arizona’s unemployment rate has trended downward over the last few years, falling nearly 2 percentage points.

Unemployment was above 10 percent in December 2009. The Office of Employment and Population Statistics’ newest numbers – from December 2011 – says it's dropped to 8.7 percent.

The first set of employment data for 2012 will be released March 8th at a press conference with Aruna Murthy, director of economic analysis for the Arizona Department of Administration.

Putting the freshest digits into perspective, here’s some key points from the December 2011 report:

• 5 of 11 major sectors saw job growth, with Professional and Business Services leading the way with 4,000 jobs. • A combination of below average job gains in the private sector and above average losses in the government resulted in a net loss in Total Nonfarm employment. • Uncharacteristically, Educational and Health Services lost 1,200 jobs.

Over the course of the year, nonfarm employment gained nearly 40,000 jobs and 10 of 11 major sectors experienced job growth. The Arizona Department of Administration projects moderate employment gains in 2012.

Arizona economy Arizona job growth Arizona unemployment Aruna Murthy,


He said:

“You really need a wholesale and comprehensive reform of the system to eliminate those presumptions that are so easily manipulated by creative lawyering.”

She said:

“The system is not broken. We agree that there are some personnel rules that can be modified and improved upon, but the bill that we’re looking at and discussing today, HB2571, is overreaching. We feel it’s dangerous, and it’s reckless.”

He is Nick Dranias, a lawyer and head of the Center for Constitutional Government at the Goldwater Institute in Phoenix.

She is Sheri Van Horsen, president of Local 3111 of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, also in Phoenix.

Both made the remarks in interview for Friday's Arizona Week broadcast on the issue of state personnel reform.

The legislation, HB2571, is one of Gov. Jan Brewer's "four cornerstones of reform" and thus, is getting lots of attention at the state Capitol.

It would toss out the current civil service system and replace it with an "at-will" system similar to the private sector. That would give state department heads the ability to hire, discipline and fire employees at their wills.

Currently, the civil service system provides appeal and due process avenues, including a ivil service review board that can approve, reject or modify disciplinary procedures, including firings, against state employees.

Watch Arizona Week at 8:30 p.m. on PBS-HD6 for an in-depth report.

Goldwater Institute Gv Jan Brewer Local 3111 AFSCME personnel reform,


The yin and the yang of Arizona's state personnel system:

-- Paid leaves of absence for employees appealing disciplinary procedures cost Arizona taxpayers $1.6 million in a two-year period, according to the Goldwater Institute. That's 88,000 paid hours that workers were off the job, the institute said.

-- Existing state law and procedures already cover most of the issues that would be addressed in the new legislation, including speeded-up hiring procedures, merit pay and quick discipline, according to Sheri Van Horsen, president of state employee union Local 3111.

These perspectives come in the midst of the debate over Gov. Jan Brewer's efforts to reform the state personnel system. A bill, HB2571, has passed one committee in the House and will go before the Committee of the Whole soon.

Meantime, small-government advocates are lining up on one side and union and employee association representatives on the other.

We will talk with several of them on Friday's Arizona Week, including:

-- Mark Flatten and Nick Dranias of the Goldwater Institute. Flatten wrote lengthy investigative report on governmental personnel issues in December 2010. Dranias, a lawyer, has made the case for the legislation to change the system.

-- Sheri Van Horsen, president of Arizona Local 3111 of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees. She has published a "myths and relaities" document that argues against personnel reform.

-- Jimmy Chavez, president of the Arizona Highway Patrol Association, which represents hundreds of peace officers and civilian workers in the Arizona Department of Public Safety. He says any changes in the personnel system need to exempt law-enforcement personnel because the current system works for them.

Those interviews will air Friday, 8:30 p.m. MST on PBS-HD6, Arizona Week.

AFSCME Local 3111 Goldwater Institute Gov Jan Brewer Mark Flatten Nick Dranias Sheri Van horsen,


Gov. Jan Brewer's proposal to reform the state personnel system, allowing greater ease in hiring and firing government workers, is working its way slowly through the Legislature.

HB2571 passed the House Committee on Employment and Regulatory Affairs earlier this month and now goes to the House Committee of the Whole.

The bill would make most state employees "at will," meaning they could be terminated for any reason -- or no reason -- with little or no notice.

Proponents say the change is needed because state government is slow to react to underperforming employees, and the system makes it difficult to get rid of them in ready fashion.

Friday's Arizona Week will look at the proposed change and what it will mean for Arizona state government employees and -- just as important -- for Arizona residents.

What will that mean? More efficient government that saves the taxpayers time and money, as proponents say, or will it mean a return to cronyism in which politicians and their appointed department heads can hire friends and acquaintances and fire people they don't like, as opponents say.

We are seeking interviews with specialists at the Goldwater Institute, which studied the issue and proposes the significant changes that are largely contained in HB2571, and with officials of state employees unions and associations that are opposing the changes.

Goldwater Institute Gov Jan Brewer personnel reform unions,


Arizona state tax revenues are up, but optimism is still minimal in the Legislature for increased spending.

Gov. Jan Brewer's office reports steady and consistent growth that has exceeded projections for the last six months, with the expectation that it will continue. On that basis, she wants to add back some spending for education and prisons.

"Revenues have started to rebound in the state, thank goodness," said John Arnold, director of the Governor's Office of Strategic Planning and Budgeting. "We went through a very difficult time where we lost over 30 percent of the total revenues for the state general fund."

Arnold commented in an interview for Friday's Arizona Week.

Arizona Senate President Steve Pierce, also in an Arizona Week interview, acknowledged that revenues are rising, but he said not at the rate the governor's office projects. Thus, Pierce said, saving and not more spending is the prudent approach for jow.

"We would like to be cautious in the money we spend now and hold some over for next year," Pierce said. " ... We don't want to spend it right now or commit it. We want to hold it until next year."

Negotiations between the governor's office and the Legislature are expected to begin soon to work out details of the state budget.

See Arnold's and Pierce's interviews and an interview with Sen. Paula Aboud, a Tucson Democrat, tonight on Arizona Week, 8:30 p.m. MST on PBS-HD6.

Arizona state budget Budget Director John Arnold Gov Jan Brewer Senate President Steve Pierce,

About AZ Week Notebook

News and commentary from Arizona Week producer/host Michael Chihak and interns Melanie Huonker and Lucy Valencia.