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Yuma unemployment rate was highest in the nation in April, report says

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WASHINGTON – Yuma’s unemployment hit 30.3 percent in April, rising to become the highest in the nation at a time when unemployment rates in more than 90 percent of U.S. metro areas were falling.

Yuma was well above the state rate of 7.8 percent for April and four times the national rate of 7.5 percent for the month, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The national rate inched up to 7.6 percent in May, according to numbers released Friday.

Yuma’s ranking was not surprising to local officials, who have been ranked high before but say the government’s figures do not accurately reflect the seasonal nature of farm and tourism employment in their city.

“This is not new to us,” said Linda Jordan, executive director of the Yuma Visitors Bureau.

But that does not mean local officials are ignoring the issue. They note that the April jobless numbers for metro areas were released the same day as a Yuma job fair that organizers said drew a record number of job-seekers.

The Goodwill of Central Arizona job fair at the Yuma Civic Center featured 58 organizations offering more than 2,800 entry-level, skilled and even professional-level positions, said Marco Garcia, Goodwill’s director of the Workforce Development. He said 1,745 job-seekers showed up in person for the May 29 fair, while others applied for jobs online.

“We spoke to over 600 job seekers at the job fair,” said Felicia Frausto, director of the Yuma County Human Resources Department, which was at the fair looking for workers.

Frausto said her department typically has more than 15 job openings every two weeks, and she agreed with other officials that the jobless situation is not as bad as the data shows.

Besides the highly seasonal nature of employment in the area, Jordan said the employment numbers could also be skewed by the fact that many residents leave Yuma in the summertime, which might result in a rising unemployment rate.

“People think it is a very depressed location because you don’t have jobs here, but that is not true,” she said.

Patrick Goetz, an officer at Yuma Private Industry Council, agreed with Jordan that the unemployment rate does not reflect the real situation. Goetz said that last year alone, the council posted 85 job positions and it has already posted 120 in 2013.

“It is about a 30 percent increase (in job postings) and we are starting to see increase in other production sectors as well,” he said.

Ben Faanunu said that in addition to seasonal employment, the unusually high jobless numbers for Yuma could also have something to do with the methods the government used during the survey.

“There is a possibility that the people being surveyed might not be representative of the place,” said Faanunu, an economist at the Office of Employment and Population Statistics at the Arizona Department of Administration.

For those people who do need a job, Garcia said Goodwill and other organizations are there to help. The job fair is just one of the services that Goodwill offers, he said.

“It’s not that there aren’t enough job openings out there, it is just people don’t know how to find them, and how to sell themselves,” Garcia said.

More than a third of the people who came to Goodwill last year were looking to replace jobs they had lost, he said. Once people lose their jobs “they’ll have to start to find new ones.”

“Most people are unemployed from mid-November to April, which is also our busiest time,” Garcia said.

Frausto said her department attends “about 10 job fairs every year and we are glad that we are able to help those who pursue job opportunities here.”

For Jordan, Yuma is much more than the employment picture. She pointed to an ERA Real Estate report that listed Yuma as one of the top three places to a buy vacation home, for example.

“People come here for beautiful sunsets and many other things and the (unemployment) number is definitely not the reflection of our community,” she said.