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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

Tucson grads in bind

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Tucson’s job market has come under fire in recent weeks following WalletHub’s ranking of the best cities to find a job in 2015. Despite being the 33rd largest city in America, Tucson finished 143 out of 150, earning the distinction as the eighth-worst city to find a job out of 150 of the most-populated cities in the U.S.


WalletHub’s Credibility

According to WalletHub, the best and worst cities to find a job are determined by the use of two key dimensions. First, it measured the job market by looking at statistics such as job opportunities, employment growth and unemployment rate. Then, it calculated the socioeconomic environment, which includes median annual income, housing affordability and safety. The job market was given a weight of 10 and socioeconomic environment a weight of five. Then, both of these factors were taken into consideration before a city earned its ranking.

Some economic experts challenge the validity of the study. In particular, they question WalletHub’s methodology and use of statistics.

“Most of this is government statistics that they’re manipulating a little bit,” said George Hammond, the director of the Economic and Business Research Center in the Eller College of Management. “They’re doing some adjustments.”

Hammond cites WalletHub’s rate of annual job growth as an example. Instead of using the raw number of job growth, WalletHub adjusts the job growth for the working age population.

“It’s not clear what that means,” Hammond said. “I’m not sure why they would do that.”

Hammond took an extensive look at WalletHub’s data and methodology and discovered that its core data is fairly standard.

“It’s a broad measure,” Hammond said. “This is pretty standard data, so I can’t vouch for their methodology.”

For this particular study, WalletHub used statistics from the U.S. Census Bureau, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the FBI, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, the Council for Community and Economic Research, Yelp, Indeed and Gallup Healthways.

Jill Gonzalez, a spokeswoman for WalletHub, vouched for the soundness of the data and research.

“It’s not like we conduct this research,” Gonzalez said. “The research has already been done. We pool [it] together and rank the data accordingly. The data is clearly listed. It’s all data that’s available to anyone that wants it.”

Current state of Tucson’s economy

While WalletHub may not be the most reliable data, there is some truth to its findings.

A number of factors affect an economy, including education, health, infrastructure, workforce and demographics. It is also important to look at job employment by industry, median household income and poverty rate to gain a sense of the current state of Tucson’s economy and learn of other possible contributing factors.

This data comes from Making Action Possible for Southern Arizona, a website run by the Eller College of Economic and Business Research Center. The UA collects this data itself and its accuracy is counted upon by the sponsors that fund its program. But these statistics measure just the metropolitan area instead of the city. Metropolitan areas expand beyond city limits and include areas within the county that are outside the city.

Employment growth by industry offers insights into the job market and employment opportunities of a region. According to MAP Dashboard, in 2013, Tucson posted a 0.7 percent employment growth rate. Nationally, the employment growth rate was twice as large. In Arizona, employment growth rate tripled that of Tucson’s.

“I wouldn’t overplay the fact that we’re behind, but we are behind,” said Ron Shoopman, member of the Business and Finance Committee of the Arizona Board of Regents.

Median household income is closely tied to economic stability and job opportunities. The more residents make, the better the economy. Statistics from MAP Dashboard show the median household income for Tucson residents in 2013 measured in at about $44,612. In Arizona, the median household income was nearly $5,000 more and almost $10,000 more nationally.    

Poverty rates reveal signs of economic distress. A poverty line is the minimum amount of money needed to survive. In 2013, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services determined the poverty line to be $11,490 for a single person. From 2009 to 2013, the U.S. Census Bureau determined nearly one out of four people in Tucson live below the poverty line. In Arizona, only 18 percent of people lived below the poverty line and only 15.3 percent nationally.

The Future of Tucson’s Economy

Even in these tough economic times, economic experts and entrepreneurs remain optimistic about the future of Tucson’s economy.

“I do believe that there’s tremendous talent and investment opportunity and pieces of the kind of the economy that can grow,” said Justin Williams, the CEO and founder of Startup Tucson. “We need to engage that, provide it nutrients and help it grow.”

The growth and potential of Tucson was echoed by Steven Reff, an economics professor at the UA and resident of Tucson for 45 years.

“Tucson is a lot better than what it was five years ago,” Reff said. “It’s moving in the right direction.”

Williams and Reff both cited the growth of Tucson’s downtown area and construction of the Sun Link Tucson Modern Streetcar as evidence of Tucson’s continuing economic development.

“There are many people and groups now working together to change that,” Shoopman said. “A lot of good work is going into to improving policy and to improve the community. … Between the universities’ partnership, the business community and our elected leaders, [they] are working closer today than in the last decade to try to find opportunities to grow and expand new jobs.”

Statistics back up the claim that Tucson is moving in the right direction as well. According to MAP Dashboard, in 2013, Tucson had a rate of 15.7 patents out of every 10,000 workers, nearly twice Arizona’s patent rate and nearly 6 percent above the national average. The high rate indicates that there is an abundance of entrepreneurs and innovators living in Tucson.

Furthermore, Tucson is on par with the national rate of educational attainment. MAP Dashboard reports that in 2013, nearly 30 percent of the 25-and-older population in Tucson held a bachelor’s degree. Comparatively, that posits the city in a good position, with the statewide number at 29 percent and nationwide at 29.1 percent.

The most encouraging sign of progress is the amount of graduates staying in Tucson and Arizona after earning their bachelor’s degree. In 2000, less than 50 percent of undergraduates stayed in Arizona. In 2012, according to data gathered by the Arizona Board of Regents, nearly seven out of 10 graduates will stay in Tucson or another part of the surrounding metropolitan area.

“We’re not that great,” Shoopman said. “But the trend is a good thing. And we are trending in the right direction, which is reason for optimism.”

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Follow Kethia Kong on Twitter.

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