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Phoenix economy: positive signs at airport, home, work

Passenger traffic at Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport is gaining altitude, another sign of Arizona’s strengthening economy.

Passenger traffic at Sky Harbor, the 10th-largest airport in the U.S. measured in terms of passengers, is a key economic indicator. Arizona’s tourism industry relies on trips to the state.

Together, with rising home prices and a steadying job market, the airport figures underscore the state’s gradually brightening business outlook. In addition to purchasing plane tickets, consumers are hitting the stores and are spending more on cars. Motorists are also paying more for gas.

But jobs are key, says Beckie Holmes of Cox Communications: “Overall job growth gives the best picture of the health of our economy.”

“For Arizona, the return of job growth in the construction sector will signal that our recovery is in full swing,” the economist said.

Job growth

Arizona’s February jobless rate was 8.7 percent, unchanged from January. But the state continues to add jobs. In February, the state had 42,600 more non-farm jobs than it did the same month a year ago. February is typically a month of growth: It’s in the middle of the state’s busy winter tourism season.

Jobless claims

The number of workers who applied for jobless benefits for the first time in February was down slightly compared with the same month a year ago. The number of unemployment-insurance applicants typically falls sharply from January to February, as employers staff up for winter visitors.

Home prices

The median price of a single-family home continued to rise in Arizona. The median rose in February, marking the fourth month in a row that figure has gone up. Every neighborhood isn’t experiencing the upward trend. In some metro Phoenix neighborhoods, home prices have fallen.

Retail sales

Shoppers continued to gain confidence in January. January retail sales, which are reported by Arizona in February, were 5.3 percent higher than they were a year ago. The last time January retail spending was close to that level was in 2008. At the time, Arizona retail sales were $3.8 million.

Gas prices

The price of a gallon of fuel gushed higher in March, rising 32 cents higher than what it cost in February. The national average for a gallon of fuel was $3.92. This chart shows the average statewide gas price reported in AAA Arizona’s March report and doesn’t include the price changes since then.

Airport traffic

The total number of annual passengers, once as high as 42 million in 2007, fell to 37.8 million in 2009, during the recession. The total rose to 40.6 million passengers in 2011.

Source: Arizona Republic, 4/7/12

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