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Arizona jobless rate at record 12.6%; expected to go higher

PHOENIX — Arizona’s jobless rate spiked last month to 12.6%, a figure that may be a record.

And it’s certain to go higher as the figures reflect the number of people out looking for work in the second week of April. Since that time, there have been another 230,000 first-time claims for unemployment insurance.

The news comes as Republican legislators quashed efforts by Democrats to increase the benefits available to the more than 577,000 people who have applied for unemployment insurance since the COVID-19 pandemic and the orders by Gov. Doug Ducey shutting down many businesses. GOP lawmakers also blocked a vote on a proposal to allow people to get unemployment payments if they leave their jobs due to unsafe working conditions.

Rep. Kelli Butler, D-Paradise Valley, made the proposals as amendments to bills being considered Thursday by the House Committee on Health and Human Services.

SB 1439 would require that women who want to get breast implants be given more information about the side effects. Robyn Towt, who had implants following a double mastectomy in 2017, told lawmakers about the health problems that developed from her silicone implants, none of which she was told about ahead of time.

SB 1027 would allow medical boards to suspend or revoke the license if a doctor or nurse performed or supervised a pelvic exam on an anesthetized or unconscious patient without first getting the woman’s “informed consent’’ to the procedure. Sen. Heather Carter, R-Cave Creek, said it’s a practice used by some hospitals to train medical students.

And SB 1570 would allow certain people to provide behavioral health services at a private office or clinic.

Republicans balked, noting that the amendments would have killed the underlying provisions of the Senate-passed bills because they were unrelated to the original subjects.

Butler acknowledged the importance of those bills. But she argued there are more pressing issues, like worker safety.

One proposal would create an exception to Arizona law which generally says that people who quit work voluntarily are ineligible for benefits. It would permit people to collect if an employer “failed to cure a working condition that made the work environment unsuitable for health or safety reasons.’’

“What is more important is addressing the public’s concern about their health and well being, and their ability to go to work and be safe,’’ Butler said.

But she was were outmaneuvered in turn by the Republicans who used procedural motions to prevent the amendment from even being offered.

Butler had no better luck with a proposal to increase the maximum benefit.

Arizona law says people who are fired or laid off due to no fault of their own are entitled to half of what they were making. Payments come from an account funded by a tax employers pay on the first $7,000 of each worker’s salary.

But the law caps benefits at $240 a week, a figure not adjusted since 2004. Only Mississippi pays less.

Her proposal would have set the maximum at $490.

By comparison, the cap is $450 in California, $492 in New Mexico, $560 in Utah and $597 in Colorado.

Rep. John Allen, R-Scottsdale, who led the successful effort to block consideration of the Democrat amendments, accused the Democrats of “grandstanding.’’

“All it is, is political posturing,’’ he said. “It’s tears for votes.’’

Butler said her efforts to amend the bills would not have been necessary had the Democrats been able to get the Republican majority to hear the issues through the regular process. And she said that the problems they address have only become more important as hundreds of thousands of Arizonans have lost their jobs.

“It’s not theatrics,’’ Butler said, citing the high jobless rate and the problems that the Department of Economic Security has had handling the crush of applications for benefits.

Whether that 12.6% is a record is unclear.

Doug Walls, the OEO’s market research director, said that comparable data goes back only to the beginning of 1976. And in all that time the highest unemployment rate recorded was 11.5% during the 1982 recession.

Walls said the rate did hit 13% in 1956. But he cautioned that the methodology used at that time was different than it is now.

What’s behind the sharp increase in unemployment last month is that the private sector shed 276,300 jobs from the prior month. By contrast, the state normally adds 7,800 workers in April.

The biggest lost, not surprisingly, is in the leisure and hospitality industry. That includes the bars and restaurants that Ducey in late March ordered shuttered except for take-out.

It also includes hotels, motels and resorts which, while not closed down, have suffered both from the governor’s stay-at-home order as well as the unwillingness of people to travel, particularly by air. That is reflected in data from the Joint Legislative Budget Committee which found tax revenues from these businesses had dropped 57.5% from March.

Finally, the category also includes movie theaters, amusement parks and sporting events, also shut down by Ducey’s orders.

Other sectors of the Arizona economy also have been hard hit.

Retail trade shed 43,800 jobs — about 13.4% of total employment — as shops also were affected by the governor’s directive allowing only “essential’’ businesses to operate. There also was the loss of 27,800 jobs in professional and business services.

Even the state’s health care industry shed 16,800 jobs, something Walls said is likely due to Ducey barring hospitals from performing elective surgeries and procedures.

Still, for the first time in years, the situation actually is better than the rest of the county, with the United States posting a seasonally adjusted unemployment rate of 14.7%.

Walls said this is due to the fact that the employment losses in the state’s construction and manufacturing industries were minimal. He said that is because Ducey’s directives did not shut down those sectors of the economy while governors in other states had far broader orders.

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Casa Grande vet turns 90 on Memorial Day


Frank Barancik was fresh out of high school and looking for an adventure when he joined the newly formed U.S. Air Force in 1948.

On Monday as the nation observes Memorial Day, he’ll celebrate his 90th birthday.

“I enjoyed being in the Air Force,” he said. “At the time I joined, the Air Force was only about a year old and we still wore Army uniforms. We got the blue uniforms in 1949.”

Barancik served in the Air Force from 1948 to 1969. Although he doesn’t spend much time dwelling on his service years, he said the experience was the “highlight of my life.”

He was a teen living on a farm in Michigan when he felt the urge to join the military.

“I always wanted to fly and I wanted to travel,” he said. “I wanted adventure, but I also wanted to get off the farm.”

Barancik served as a logistician. The job took him all over the world.

“I was newly married and a newly commissioned officer when I was sent to Greenland to spend a year at the polar ice caps,” he said.

At the time, Thule Air Base was being developed and Barancik battled temperatures that sometimes dipped to 70 below zero.

“It was a good assignment but it was cold,” Barancik said. “I did a lot of reading and thinking. But I was newly wed at the time, and being away from my wife was difficult.”

In the years following his time in the Arctic, Barancik had posts around the globe including in France, Germany, Iceland and various spots in the U.S.

“We lived all over the world,” said his daughter, Kristi Cole. “He had quite a career.”

While in the Air Force, Barancik went to officer school and rose through the ranks. He earned a bachelor’s degree in computer science and a master’s degree in logistics.

He earned a pilot’s license in 1951.

“Learning to fly was something that I always wanted to do,” he said.

During his years of military service, he said he saw the U.S. Air Force develop from a new branch of the armed forces to a modern, highly technical one.

He retired in 1969 and later became a purchasing agent for the state of Arizona. He also became a real estate agent and broker and started a real estate firm.

Barancik will celebrate his 90th birthday with a cake and surrounded by family.

“I’ve been blessed in my life,” Barancik said. “I’ve had so many opportunities and I was so proud to serve my country.”

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CG to open rec center next week

CASA GRANDE — Local exercise fans will be able to move out of the garage and back into the air conditioning after the city of Casa Grande reopens its Community Recreation Center next week.

In an email to recreation center members, the city announced that it would reopen the center on Wednesday with some restrictions in place.

Those restrictions include requiring members to reserve a time to use the facility, limited hours of operation, a limited number of users allowed in each area, enforcement of social distancing guidelines and regular sanitizing of equipment.

The center will be open from 6 a.m. to 9 a.m. Monday through Friday and from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Thursday. It will remain closed on weekends.

Members will have to call the day before they want to use the center to make a reservation. For example, a member would have to call on Monday to reserve a time for Tuesday. The center will start taking reservations on Tuesday. Only people over age 16 will be able to make a reservation. Members will be able to reserve up to one hour of time in the facility.

The center is also still offering day or guest passes and membership sign-ups.

City Community Services Director Steve Hardesty said the reservation system should allow at least 20 to 30 people to use the facility each hour.

The city will shut down the facility between 9 a.m. and 4 p.m. each day to clean and sanitize.

The areas open for use will include the fitness loft, indoor track and group fitness rooms for individual workouts, and a second track will be set up in the gym. Group fitness classes will be restarted at a later date.

Each area of the center will have an occupancy limit of 10 people. The free weight area will be limited to two people. The center’s cardio and strength training equipment will be spaced out or blocked off to make it easier for members to keep a safe distance.

Members are reminded to keep a 6-foot distance between themselves and other people in their area, wipe down the equipment before and after they use it and wash their hands before and after exercising.

Staff will monitor the areas to make sure people are complying with the rules. A safety screen will be installed at the front desk to protect staff and sanitizer bottles will be scattered throughout the center.

The staff is also reminding members who feel sick, have symptoms or have been in contact with someone who has had the coronavirus to stay home.

The city will reinstate the membership of anyone who uses the center during the partial reopening. Members who wish to continue to stay home will have their membership reactivated once the center is fully reopened. All members will have a credit applied to their account for the time the center was closed once the center fully reopens, including winter visitors.

For more information or to make a reservation, call 520-421-8677.