By Devin Browne, Fronteras Desk
If there is a bright spot in Arizona’s still nascent recovery, it’s the leisure and hospitality industry — the state’s largest job creator right now. The industry added 10,700 new jobs between last March and this one.
This news makes 24-year-old Graham Doyle very happy that he decided to major in hospitality management at Northern Arizona University.
"You know the hospitality industry out here just always seems to be booming," Doyle said. "They’re always building new bars, new hotels - stuff like that, new casinos. So hopefully that’ll be an option for me, always."
There are a few drawbacks with the hospitality industry — the jobs usually don’t require a lot of education or skill, and they generally don’t pay very much.
But economists say there's an even bigger concern in Arizona than dependence on an industry with typically low-skilled, low-paying jobs. The larger worry is that the state's industries have tended towards growing too fast, and creating the expectation that they'll grow that fast forever — the construction industry, for example.
The rate of Arizona's growth during the boom, fueled by the construction industry, was roughly five times what it is now. Economist Stephen Brown at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, says this is partly why the state's economy collapsed.
"You can’t have a region of the country that forever grows at a much faster rate than the country as a whole," Brown said.
As it turns out, Arizona’s now trailing the country as a whole in job recovery. The U.S. has regained 40 percent of the jobs it lost, while Arizona has only regained 25 percent.
This might seem disappointing, but Brown says the state’s current rate of job growth — about 2 percent from last March to this one — is much closer to what economists see as sustainable in the long term.
Fronteras Desk is a project of public broadcasting entities in Arizona, California, Nevada, New Mexico and Texas, including Arizona Public Media.