Sometimes a picture is worth a thousand words. In this instance, the picture is a graph.
If you need proof that 2011 has "felt" like a tough year for Arkansas jobs and the economy, look no further than this data point series provided by the Arkansas Department of Workforce Services (DWS). Simply put, the graph shows that there are fewer people working in Arkansas than at any time in the last year-and-a-half.
Arkansas’ labor force has seen a precipitous decline that began in March of this year, a downward trend that coincided with four straight months of rising unemployment to levels not seen since 1987. This follows last year’s smoother, steadier rise in available labor.
The state’s civilian workforce has fluctuated from its March high of 1,362,400 to its August low of 1,347,800, a drop-off (or dropout) of 14,600 workers.
Shrinkage in the workforce reflects several factors, including people leaving the state to find work elsewhere or those who have simply quit looking for work.
As the graph indicates, Arkansas’ civilian labor force in August fell to a level below any month this year or last year – a signal that the jobs market remains a struggle. As we’ve noted in previous reporting, the state saw a major uptick in mass layoffs during a three-month stretch from May through July.
Keep in mind that the labor force can rise or fall and the unemployment rate may not move similarly. This year, however, labor force growth and decline has closely mirrored movements in the monthly jobless rate.
On Friday, the September jobs report will be released. Let’s hope the next plot on the graph heads in a northward, not southward, direction. As for the jobless rate, let’s hope it bucks its four-month trend and starts to reverse.
Also, you may find this data interesting. County-by-county statistics tracked by DWS rank the highest and lowest unemployment levels in Arkansas. The state’s jobless rate in August was 8.3%.
Here are the Top 5 highs and lows by county:
Highest Unemployment Rate
Lowest Unemployment Rate