Arkansas’ jobless rate hits new low, total employment hits all-time high

by Wesley Brown (wesbrocomm@gmail.com) 140 views 

Arkansas’ job market continued to venture into new territory in April as the state’s jobless rate fell from last’s month’s seasonally adjusted all-time low of 4.1% and total employment touched an all-time high.

Labor force data, produced by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics and released Friday (May 20) by the Arkansas Department of Workforce Services, shows Arkansas’ seasonally adjusted unemployment rate now at 3.9% compared to 4.1% in March and 5.5% a year ago.

Arkansas’ civilian labor force rose by 2,860 in April, a result of 5,309 more employed and 2,449 fewer unemployed Arkansans.  By comparison, the U.S. jobless rate was unchanged in April as 160,000 workers were added to payroll of American companies.

“Arkansas’ employment in April reached a new record high of 1,309,268, breaking the previous record set in May 2008,” said Arkansas BLS Program Operations Manager Susan Price. “The employment increase helped push the unemployment rate down to 3.9 percent, breaking last month’s record low of 4.1%.”

With 1,361,951 Arkansas now receiving paychecks or unemployment compensation, the state’s civilian labor force has added nearly 29,000 to employer payrolls in 2016 and more than 36,000 over the past year, up 2.7% from 1.325 million in April 2015.

Earlier this month, the U.S. Labor Department report that the nation’s job market remained steady at 5% unemployment. Total nonfarm payroll employment increased by 160,000 in April. Over the prior 12 months, employment growth had averaged 232,000 per month. In April, U.S. employment gains occurred in professional and business services, health care, and financial activities, while mining continued to lose jobs.

In March, Arkansas’ touched its lowest-ever seasonally adjusted unemployment rate at 4.1%, now corrected from a previously reported 4% jobless rate. The preliminary average monthly jobless rate in Arkansas during 2015 is 5.4%. Arkansas’ average jobless rate for 2014 was 6.1%, down 1.3% percentage points from the 7.4% average in 2013.

The closely-watched nonfarm employment in Arkansas increased a healthy 8,400 in April to total 1,232,800. Employment gains came in seven major industry sectors, while four sectors saw slight declines. The nonfarm category does not include farm workers, private household employees, non-profit employees and “general government” employees. Investopedia estimates that the nonfarm category represents about 80% of the total workforce that contributes to national GDP. The missing data on farm workers in Arkansas is significant, given that Federal Reserve data for the Eighth District shows that much of the region’s agriculture and farming sector is in a downturn because of falling commodity prices.

Arkansas sectors leading the year-over-year gains were trade, transportation and utilities with 2,900 new jobs. Seasonal hiring occurred in retail at 2,500 and wholesale trade up by 1,300.  The state’s robust tourism and hospitality sector continued adding jobs at 1,900, while professional and business services added 1,700 new workers. The state’s construction also added 1,600 jobs, which state labor officials called “a typical spring expansion.”

On the negative side, the mining sector which includes the state’s depressed oil and gas sector lost another 1,400 jobs in April. The Arkansas manufacturers sector fell by 1,300 year-over-year as the durable goods sector has slid into a downturn with the loss of 2,500 factory jobs. The nondurable goods manufacturing sector, which typical produce consumable “soft goods” like food, clothing, toothpaste and washing powder, has hired an additional 1,200 new workers over the past 12 months.

In April, the Trade, Transportation and Utilities sector – Arkansas’ largest job sector – employment rose to an estimated 258,300 workers in the labor pool, compared to 255,400 in March and 249,500 a year ago.

The fast-growing Education and Health Services sector lost 200 jobs in April and now has 179,900 workers in the state’s brimming labor pool, compared with 180,100 in March and 174,600 in the same period a year ago. This sector has seen steady growth in the past decade, with employment in the sector up almost 19% since April 2006.

Manufacturing jobs in Arkansas rose by 500 in April to 153,400, but are still well below year ago levels of 154,700. Peak employment in the sector was 247,300 in February 1995.

Government hiring for the month continued to climb as 300 new workers were hired as local, state or federal employees. There are now 217,300 government workers on state payrolls, now the second-largest nonfarm sector behind Trade, Transportation and Utilities. A year ago, there were 216,700 government jobs in Arkansas.

The construction sector employed an estimated 49,000 in April, up 3.4% from 47,400 in March and well above the 46,000 level in the same period of 2015. The sector is well off the employment high of 57,600 reached in April 2007.

Arkansas’ growing tourism sector (leisure & hospitality) employed 116,900 in April, up 4.7% from a year ago as the state prepares for a busy Memorial Day weekend holiday next week. Last year, there were 111,600 workers in the state’s tourism industry.

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