Since the beginning of this century, Arizona workers have struggled to stretch the number on their pay stubs across ever-burgeoning stacks of bills.  Though the state unemployment rate has fallen over the past five years and the median wage swelled, the majority of people in the Grand Canyon State continue to meet with difficulty when trying to keep their heads above water.  

It’s no secret that the country has experienced economic challenges over the last decade.  The Great Recession was officially over in June 2009, according to the Economic Policy Institute, but the nation’s economic recovery has been lethargic.  Jobs losses around the country have been significant since that time, especially lower-wage jobs.  Arizona lost 300,000 jobs during the economic downturn; so far this year, just 5,610 have been restored.  Meanwhile, gas and grocery prices continue to soar, and education costs are steadily climbing.  

EPI president Lawrence Mishel studies nationwide economic policy and trends.  He said of the latest recovery period:  “Modest wage growth is the result of the way the economy has been designed to work.  Essentially, the economic policy over the past three decades has not supported good jobs.  The focus instead has been on policies that claimed to make consumers better off through lower prices.” (Economic Snapshot, epi.org).

Though the period between 2007 and 2010 was the driest part of the economic drought, the median annual wage for Arizona workers jumped from $28,640 to $34,000 in 2010, and again to $34,110 in 2011.  ASU economist  Lee McPheters explained that “more below-median jobs were lost than above-median jobs, so that had the effect of pulling the median wage up.”  

In Graham County, the median household income in 2010 was somewhat higher than the Arizona average at $41,683, though 20 percent of Graham County residents lived below the poverty level.  According to census data, the value of homes in Graham County between 2006 and 2010 was around $119,500, and a recent cost of living study proclaims rural Arizona’s housing index to be 96.  The index indicates that housing costs in Graham County are only 4 percent lower than the rest of the country.

According to the same study, health-care costs appear to be about 7 percent higher than in the state’s two main metropolitan areas, and transportation costs are nearly 27 percent higher here than in Phoenix, 9 percent above Tucson.

With so much strain on already tightened resources, families are doing more than ever to save any way they can.  Most grocery stores offer members-only discounts in exchange for current contact information.  An increasing number of coupon Web sites offer a chance to hang on to a few more hard-earned pennies as long as one is willing to commit time and energy to finding and clipping the right coupons.  

Some banks offer online tracking tools or budgeting classes.  Eastern Arizona College boasts continuous efforts to create and support a strong foundation for small business in the Gila Valley.

“EAC has long been a supporter of small business in the Gila Valley Valley,” said Kevin Peck, Director at EAC’s Small Business Development Center.  “The EAC SBDC is funded jointly through EAC and the U.S. Small Business Administration.  EAC’s focus on developing a strong business education curriculum, including its Small Business Management degree and certificate programs, is further evidence of its commitment to small business.  Workshops, seminars and small business trainings are all hosted at EAC to support, encourage and help grow small businesses throughout the Gila Valley.”

Arizona Governor Jan Brewer is trying to grow the state’s economy by phasing in tax cuts for businesses and creating a new public-private Commerce Authority that uses state and private funds to bring jobs to this state.  So far, the jobs package, signed into effect in 2011, has had a relatively small effect on Arizona’s employment situation.  The governor is optimistic, though, and believes that the state is aggressively building a firm foundation and is on the right track for a better future in Arizona.       

The authority has plans to help create more than 75,000 high-wage jobs in industries like aerospace and defense, semiconductors, optics, bioscience and energy — many of which claim yearly income potential from $63,000 to $104,000.  The Greater Phoenix Economic Council is another example of a group working to attract higher-wage jobs to Arizona.  

These types of organizations can also have a “multiplier” effect on the economy because the larger suppliers hire workers to serve those industries.

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