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As we approach Labor Day, I believe the residents of Pima County deserve to breathe a sigh of relief. Though the COVID-19 pandemic continues to maintain something of a grip on our community and its economy, I say with crossed fingers that I believe the worst will soon be over and we can get fully back to business.

Compared with this time last year, much of our community has gotten back to work. I and my colleagues on the Pima County Board of Supervisors will do everything in our power to make sure this upward trajectory in employment continues and that the businesses and residents of Pima County continue to thrive. And if they’re not thriving yet, we hope to implement policies that will make that

possible.

You can help that effort by getting vaccinated. The current spike in cases is overwhelmingly among the unvaccinated, about 95 cases out of every 100. Our economy will continue to see setbacks until most of the roughly 300,000 unvaccinated adults in Pima County get the COVID shot. 

Still, even with the spike, our economy is recovering. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, from June 2020 to June 2021, the last quarter for which data was available, the unemployment rate in Pima County fell from 10.6 percent to 7.4 percent. Hopefully, we’ll see continued improvement in that number when third-quarter figures are released after September.

For the Tucson metro area, which comprises the vast population of Pima County, nonfarming jobs grew by nearly 10,000 over that same period of time, a growth rate of 2.8 percent.

I’m pleased to see that over the past year leisure and hospitality employment grew at 15.1 percent. This industry was among the hardest hit in 2020 and it is heartening to see it making such a strong comeback. 

There are lives behind these numbers. This growth in employment means more Pima County families can put food on the table; pay their rents, mortgages and utility bills; buy school supplies and clothing for their children; and increase their overall involvement in the

economy.

Yet, though more people are working, we still have work to do. An unemployment rate of 7.4 percent in the county is still too high.

One concrete step we have taken to help make more members of our community employable is to increase funding for JobPath, a nonprofit agency that provides financial assistance to people seeking two-year associate’s degrees or industry

certifications.

In July, the Board of Supervisors voted to increase Pima County’s contribution to JobPath from $750,000 per year to $1,750,000 annually. For the time being, the additional $1 million will come from the American Rescue Plan, which was signed into law by President Biden earlier this year to promote economic recovery from the pandemic.

With the extra funding, JobPath, which has a 23-year-long track record of producing valued workers for Tucson employers, will be able to add staff and increase the number of students in its program from 378 to 670 per year. The long-term goal is to send 1,000 individuals a year through the program.

Although JobPath aims to put people into jobs paying an average hourly rate of $16 an hour, the program exceeds that mark. Of the 95 individuals who graduated from JobPath in the last fiscal year, the average wage at their new jobs was $24.72, according to the agency’s most recent economic report.

The effort to fortify JobPath is in addition to board’s longstanding support of the Pima County One-Stop Center, which is part of the Community & Workforce Development Department. Through a wide variety of services, the One-Stop Center helps unemployed, homeless and young workers find rewarding jobs. The One-Stop Center also assists veterans transitioning out of military service and into the workforce.

I will continue to support programs like JobPath and the One-Stop Center that will make the best use of the federal dollars we receive and have the biggest economic effect on our community.

Also, while we are out and about on Labor Day Weekend, let’s remember that it’s not a time of rest for everyone. If there’s one true thing about our modern economy, it’s that someone is always working somewhere. With that in mind, let’s be extra generous with the baristas, the servers, the nurses, the guards, the cashiers and anyone else who is working on Labor Day. 

Sharon Bronson is chair of the Pima County Board of Supervisors.

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