Arkansas’ jobless rate below 7% for first time in more than five years

Arkansas’ March jobless rate of 6.9% ends 61 consecutive months that the rate was at or above 7%, and the drop was helped by significant year-over-year job gains in the state’s tourism industry, the retail sector and the education and health services sector.

The March rate of 6.9% was below the February rate of 7.1% and below the March 2013 rate of 7.4%, according to the report issued Friday (April 18) by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. The March figures are subject to revision.

Year-over-year, the state’s tourism sector gained an estimated 5,100 jobs, the Trade, Transportation and Utilities sector was up 3,000 jobs and the Education and Health Services sector was up 2,500 jobs.

Arkansas’ labor force was an estimated 1.33 million in March, essentially flat compared to February, and up compared to 1.327 million in March 2013. The year-over-year comparison shows an estimated 3,174 more Arkansans in the labor force.

The number of employed in Arkansas during March was 1.238 million, above February employment of 1.236 million, and up an estimated 10,227 jobs compared to the 1.228 million in March 2013.

The number of unemployed was an estimated 91,721 during March, down from the 94,110 in February, and well below the 98,774 in March 2013.

Arkansas’ annual average jobless rate fell from 7.9% during 2011 to a revised 7.5% during 2012. The initial annual average jobless rate for Arkansas during 2013 is 7.5%.

In the Trade, Transportation and Utilities sector — Arkansas’ largest job sector — employment during March was an estimated 243,500, up from 242,900 in February and ahead of the 241,500 during March 2013. Employment in the sector hit a high of 251,800 in March 2007.

Manufacturing jobs in Arkansas during March totaled 154,000, down compared to 154,300 in February and above the 153,200 in March 2013. Employment in the manufacturing sector fell in 2013 to levels not seen since early 1968. Peak employment in the sector was 247,300 in March 1995.

Government job employment during March was 215,300, down from 215,500 in February and below the 215,800 during March 2012.

The state’s Education and Health Services sector during March had 173,700 jobs, up from the 173,500 during February and up from 171,200 during March 2013. Employment in the sector is up more almost 23% compared to March 2004.

Arkansas’ tourism sector (leisure & hospitality) employed 109,500 during March, up from 109,000 during February, and above the 104,400 during March 2013. The March employment level sets a new record for the sector. The number is subject to revision in future reports.

The BLS report also noted that 46 states had unemployment rate decreases from a year earlier, and four states had increases. The national jobless rate during March was at 6.7%, and was down from the 7.5% in March 2013.

Rhode Island had the highest unemployment rate among the states in March at 8.7%. The next highest rate was Nevada at 8.5% and Illinois at 8.4%. North Dakota again had the lowest jobless rate at 2.6%, followed by Nebraska and South Dakota each at 3.7%.

The March jobless rate in Oklahoma was 4.9%, down compared to 5% in February and down from 5.2% in March 2013.

Missouri’s jobless rate during March was 6.7%, up from 6.4% in February and up compared to 6.6% in March 2013.