Fort Smith area jobless rate ticks higher in January

Editor’s note: This story is a component of The Compass Report. The quarterly Compass Report is managed by The City Wire and presented by Fort Smith-based Benefit Bank. Other supporting sponsors of The Compass Report are Cox Communications and the Fort Smith Regional Chamber of Commerce.

Swings in the workforce size and number of employed — potentially related to winter weather impacts on reporting – pushed the January Fort Smith metro jobless rate to 7.8%, ahead of the 7.6% in December but well below the 8.7% in January 2013. The metro rate has been at or above 7% for 61 consecutive months.

Metro employment of 117,794 was down from the revised 122,466 in December, and was down 1.7% from the 119,845 in January 2013, according to figures released Friday (March 21) by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Only one of the eight metro areas (Memphis-West Memphis) in or connected to Arkansas had a jobless rate decline in January compared to December. Two areas had jobless rate increases compared to January 2013, three had declines and three areas were unchanged. For perspective, 98.6% of the 372 U.S. metro areas had year-over-year-over-year jobless rate declines in January, while 37.5% of Arkansas’ eight metro areas posted year-over-year declines.

During January, the lowest metro jobless rate in the state was 5.9% in Northwest Arkansas and the highest rate was 10.8% in the Pine Bluff area.

The federal BLS issued this statement with its January labor report: “Effective with this release, nonfarm payroll estimates for states and metropolitan areas have been revised as a result of annual benchmark processing to reflect 2013 employment counts primarily from the BLS Quarterly Census of Employment and Wages (QCEW), as well as updated seasonal adjustment factors. Not seasonally adjusted data back to April 2012 were revised. Seasonally adjusted data from January 1990 were subject to revision.”

The size of the Fort Smith regional workforce during January was 127,708, down from 132,560 during December, and down 2.74% compared to the 131,316 during January 2013. The labor force reached a revised high of 140,253 in June 2007.

Unemployed persons in the region totaled an estimated 9,914 during January, down from the 10,094 during December, and more than 13% below the 11,471 during January 2013.

The Fort Smith area manufacturing sector employed an estimated 18,200 in January, down from 18,400 in December, and below the 18,300 during January 2013. Sector employment is down more than 36% from a decade ago when January 2004 manufacturing employment in the metro area stood at 28,500. Also, the annual average monthly employment in manufacturing has fallen from 28,900 in 2005, 19,200 in 2012, and to 18,300 in 2013.

Jobs in the Trade, Transportation and Utilities sector — the region’s largest job sector —  totaled 24,200 in January, down from the 24,800 in December, and above the 23,500 during January 2013. Employment in the sector reached a high of 25,700 in December 2007.

Employment in the region’s tourism industry was 9,100 during January, down from 9,200 in December and above the 8,700 in January 2013. The sector reached an employment high of 9,800 in August 2008.

In Education & Health Services, employment was 16,400 during January, down from 16,600 in December and below the 16,900 during January 2013. Annual average monthly employment in the sector has steadily grown since 2005 when it reached 14,000. In 2012 the average was 17,000, but fell slightly to 16,800 in 2013. Employment in the sector reached a record 17,300 in October 2012.

In the Government sector, employment was 18,800 during January, down from 19,400 in December and up compared to 18,600 in January 2013.

Unemployment rates were lower in January than a year earlier in 367 of the 372 metropolitan areas, higher in three areas, and unchanged in two areas, noted the broad BLS report.

The U.S. unemployment rate in January was 6.6%, down from 7.9% from a year earlier. Arkansas’ jobless rate was 7.3% in January, down from 7.4% in December and down from 7.5% in January 2013.

Oklahoma’s jobless rate during January was 5.2%, down from 5.4% in December, and down compared to 5.4% in January 2013. The Missouri jobless rate during January was 6%, unchanged from December and better than the 6.7% in January 2013.

January 2014: 5.9%
December 2013: 4.9%
January 2013: 5.9%

Fort Smith
January 2014: 7.8%
December 2013: 7.6%
January 2013: 8.7%

Hot Springs
January 2014: 8.1%
December 2013: 7.5%
January 2013: 8.4%

January 2014: 7.8%
December 2013: 6.6%
January 2013: 7.8%

Little Rock-North Little Rock-Conway
January 2014: 7.1%
December 2013: 6.2%
January 2013: 7.1%

Memphis-West Memphis
January 2014: 8.4%
December 2013: 8.6%
January 2013: 9.7%

Pine Bluff
January 2014: 10.8%
December 2013: 9.8%
January 2013: 10.5%

January 2014: 7.3%
December 2013: 6.8%
January 2013: 7.2%

Past annual average unemployment rates
2012: 7.7%
2011: 8.3%
2010: 8.2%
2009: 8.1%
2008: 5%
2007: 5.2%
2006: 4.9%
2005: 4.5%
2004: 5.2%
2003: 5.5%
2002: 5%
2001: 4.2%
2000: 3.7%