By Terri Jo Neff
Although Arizona is not yet back to pre-pandemic workforce levels, a recent U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics report shows the state is headed in the right direction, with more than 21,000 jobs added in July, boosting Arizona to fourth place in percentage of jobs recovered post-COVID19.
That means Arizona has restored all but around 20,000 of the 331,500 jobs lost in the pandemic’s aftermath, giving the state at a recovery rate of 93.7 percent. Only three states -Utah, Idaho, and Montana- have a better percentage of recovery than Arizona as of July.
Yet despite the state’s positive trajectory, many small business owners, economists, and job placement officials remain worried about whether Prop 208’s 3.5 percent income tax surcharge will go into effect or not, and whether legislation aimed at blunting any impact will withstand its own legal challenge.
The surcharge was narrowly approved by voters last November to hit Arizonans earning more than $250,000 (single filing) or $500,000 (joint filing) in an attempt to increase K-12 funding. The tax was designed to be on top of the then-existing income tax of 4.5 percent, but last week the Arizona Supreme Court ordered a Maricopa County judge to determine whether Prop 208 tax revenues will exceed the Education Expenditure Limit set in the Arizona Constitution.
If the answer is yes, then the judge must declare Prop. 208 unconstitutional and enjoin state officials from putting the tax surcharge into operation, the justices ordered.
Gov. Doug Ducey signed legislation in June to change Arizona’s individual income tax structure over the next three years and to blunt the surcharge effect. The legislation also provides small businessowners an alternative to the surcharge. But until the Prop 208 legal issue is resolved, there are worries that Arizona’s recovery will slow due to small business owners reducing spending -such as employee compensation and benefits- to cover any additional tax burden.
Others may choose to abstain from hiring or even decide to cut personnel. And that is a point of concern for those trying to get jobs for all Arizonans who want one.
The same Bureau of Labor Statistics report shows Arizona’s rate of unemployment was 6.6 percent in July, ranking 40th in the nation. That ties with Alaska, Louisiana, and Pennsylvania, while Utah, Idaho, and Montana had unemployment rates at 2.6, 3.0, and 3.6 respectively, among the Top 10 lowest percentages for July.
Arizona’s current unemployment rate, however, is a vast improvement from April 2020, when the state had 14.2 percent of work-eligible adults out of jobs, a historical high. In addition, next month’s end of two Arizona Department of Economic Security (DES) unemployment benefit programs is expected to spur many out-of-work Arizonans back into the workforce.
Those programs -Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) and Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation- are scheduled to expire for the workweek ending Sept. 4. Ducey and DES have created a Back to Work program with several features to help Arizonans transition back to work, including childcare vouchers, educational incentives, and even hiring bonuses for eligible individuals.