Arkansas’ jobless rate falls to 6.6%, labor force still shrinking

by The City Wire staff ( 3 views 

Arkansas’ jobless rate during April fell to 6.6% thanks to an estimated increase of 7,762 employed Arkansans and a more than 12% decline in the number of unemployed. However, the state’s labor force size continues to decline and remains well below pre-recession levels.

The April rate of 6.6% was below the March rate of 6.9% and below the April 2013 rate of 7.5%, according to the report issued Friday (May 16) by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. The April figures are subject to revision.

Year-over-year, the state’s tourism sector gained an estimated 3,200 jobs, the Trade, Transportation and Utilities sector was up 1,400 jobs, the Education and Health Services sector was up 1,500 jobs, and the construction sector was up 1,900 jobs.

Arkansas’ labor force was an estimated 1.322 million in April, below the 1.33 million in March, and down 0.33% compared to 1.367 million in April 2013. The year-over-year comparison shows an estimated 4,474 fewer Arkansans in the labor force. There are 39,959 fewer Arkansans in the labor force compared to April 2007, a decline of almost 3%.

Greg Kaza, director of the Arkansas Policy Foundation and an economic researcher, welcomed the job growth, but said ongoing shrinkage in the labor force is a problem.

“Arkansas' unemployment rate continues to fall as the U.S. expansion enters its sixth year next month (June). The civilian labor force's decline is troubling for this stage of the business cycle, and should be a subject for further inquiry,” Kaza said in a statement.

The number of employed in Arkansas during April was 1.235 million, below March employment of 1.238 million, and up an estimated 7.762 jobs compared to the 1.227 million in April 2013.

The number of unemployed was an estimated 86,726 during April, down from the 91,773 in March, and well below the 98,962 in April 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 April was an estimated 242,700, down from 243,600 in March and ahead of the 241,300 during April 2013. Employment in the sector hit a high of 251,800 in March 2007.

Manufacturing jobs in Arkansas during April totaled 154,500, up compared to 153,900 in March and above the 152,500 in April 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 February 1995.

Government job employment during April was 215,800, up from 215,300 in March and below the 215,900 during April 2013.

The state’s Education and Health Services sector during April had 173,500 jobs, down from the 173,800 during March and up from 172,000 during April 2013. Employment in the sector is up more than 22% compared to April 2004.

Arkansas’ tourism sector (leisure & hospitality) employed 107,800 during April, down from 109,100 during March, and above the 104,600 during April 2013. The March employment level set a new record for the sector.

The construction sector employed an estimated 47,600 in April, up from 47,500 in March and above the 45,700 in April 2013. The sector is off the employment high of 57,600 reached in March 2007.

The BLS report also noted that 47 states had unemployment rate decreases from a year earlier, and one state had and increase and two states had no change. The national jobless rate during April was 6.3%, and was down from the 7.5% in April 2013.

Rhode Island had the highest unemployment rate among the states in April at 8.3%. North Dakota again had the lowest jobless rate at 2.6%.

The April jobless rate in Oklahoma was 4.6%, down compared to 4.9% in March and down from 5.3% in April 2013.

Missouri’s jobless rate during April was 6.6%, down from 6.7% in March and unchanged compared to April 2013.