Unemployment has hit Arizona hard during the economic recession. State Senator Lynne Pancrazi (D-Yuma), citing Department of Labor Statistics, indicates that Yuma, Arizona has reached an unemployment rate of 25.3 percent, surpassing the highest national unemployment rate of the Great Depression. In 1933, in the midst of the Great Depression, the national unemployment rate hit 24.9 percent. These staggering numbers come on the heels of a special session of the Republican controlled Arizona Legislature, where legislators refused to extend jobless benefits to nearly 40,000 Arizonans.
The special session, called by Governor Jan Brewer (R), was aimed at extending unemployment insurance benefits for out of work Arizonans who are at or near the 79 week maximum to receive benefits. The money for the extension, which would have come entirely from federal aid, amounts to approximately $3.5 million per week. Despite support for the extension from Governor Brewer, the Republican controlled legislature took no action to extend benefits.
The legislature came under criticism for failing to reach a consensus regarding the extension. Republican legislators in particular have been accused of failing to seriously address the issue. The actions of State Senator Don Shooter (R-Yuma) did not help. Senator Shooter arrived for the special session dressed in a sombrero, pancho and carrying a half empty bottle of tequila in a holster, a move Democrats and even Republicans called inappropriate.
A recent blog entry by SOMOS Republicans, states that Republican legislators need to “stop clowning around,” referring to Senator Shooter’s antics, and start creating jobs. The post went on to add that Senator Shooter needs to explain why 40 percent of the Yuma lettuce crop was not harvested due to shortages in labor. While Shooter’s actions are being viewed as inappropriate, SOMOS’s statement about labor shortages in Yuma raises the question of why unemployment is so high in Yuma.
Yuma County has a huge agricultural industry fueled by farm laborers. Many claim its high unemployment rate stems from the seasonal nature of the agricultural industry. Rather than travel to other states for work, farm laborers choose to file for unemployment benefits until the season returns to Yuma. Once the season does return, the laborers will return to work. Some have attributed the decline in available farm labor to an anti-immigrant sentiment in Arizona.