Arkansas jobless rate holds steady, 9,100 positions added to state’s tight labor market

by Wesley Brown (wesbrocomm@gmail.com) 203 views 

Arkansas’ jobless rate held steady in July as the state’s brimming labor pool added another 9,100 new workers amid employers’ continued quest to find capable workers to fill positions throughout all sectors of the economy.

Labor force data, produced by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) and released Friday (Aug. 18) by the Arkansas Department of Workforce Services, shows Arkansas’ seasonally adjusted unemployment rate remained unchanged at 3.4% between June and July. Arkansas’ unemployment rate touched a fifth straight all-time low in May, dropping then a full percentage point below the declining U.S. jobless rate.

“Arkansas’ unemployment rate has been stable since May, leveling out at 3.4%. The rate is down six-tenths of a percentage point compared to July 2016, with an additional 39,229 more employed in the State,” said Susan Price, Arkansas’ BLS program operations manager.

Last week, the U.S. unemployment rate fell one tenth of a percentage point to 4.3%, the lowest level since former George W. Bush has spent only six months in office in 2001. There were also nearly 210,000 jobs added to the U.S. economy between months, causing President Donald Trump and Labor Department Secretary Alexander Acosta to publicly highlight the July report.

“Since President Trump took office, the unemployment rate has hit a 16-year low. (July’s) jobs report reflects the steady economic growth and continued optimism felt by businesses across the United States,” Acosta said. “American companies are growing and they are hiring. Hundreds of thousands of Americans are now taking home a paycheck.”

This week, the state’s tight job market was highlighted during event in downtown Little Rock where Gov. Asa Hutchinson and Arkansas Economic Development Commission Director Mike Preston launched a new website aimed at matching highly-skilled knowledge-based workers with employers in the state’s fast-growing professional and business services sector.

“We are not exporting our talent out there to Silicon Valley, but we are saying ‘if you want talent,’ it is right here in Arkansas,” Hutchinson said during the announcement at the Little Rock Technology Park.

Despite Friday’s robust job report, University of Arkansas at Little Rock’s chief economist Michael Pakko believes some of the recent declines in state’s official jobless rate might be overstating the actual fall in unemployment. Pakko, director at UALR’s Institute for Economic Advancement, recently commented that on his Arkansas Economist blog that the monthly household survey by BLS has shown the number of employed actually rising at an “unprecedented rate” of over 5% since December 2016.

“Comparing the household data to the payroll survey, it appears likely that this rapid pace of household employment growth will ultimately be revised downward,” Pakko wrote. “Although the two measures of employment have slightly different definitions, they should generally be expected to move together over time.”

Nationwide, the number of unemployed persons held at about 7 million and labor force participation, at 62.9%, continued to show no clear trend over the past year. Since January, the unemployment rate and the number of unemployed are down by 0.5 percentage points and 658,000, respectively.

Across the U.S., unemployment rates were ere higher in July in 3 states, lower in 1 state, and stable in 46 states and the District of Columbia, BLS data shows. Twenty-seven states had jobless rate decreases from a year earlier and 23 states and the District had little or no change. The national unemployment rate, just below June’s 4.4%, was 0.6 percentage point lower than in July 2016.

Nonfarm payroll employment increased in 11 states and the District of Columbia in July 2017, decreased in 1 state, and was essentially unchanged in 38 states. Over the year, 29 states and the District added nonfarm payroll jobs and 21 states were essentially unchanged.

North Dakota and Colorado had the lowest unemployment rates in July, 2.2% and 2.4%, respectively. The rates in North Dakota (2.2%) and Tennessee (3.4%) also set new series lows. Alaska had the highest jobless rate at 7%. In total, 18 states had unemployment rates lower than the U.S. average of 4.3%, while nine states and the District of Columbia had higher rates, and 23 states had rates that were not appreciably different from that of the nation.

In Arkansas, the state’s’ benchmark nonfarm employment fell 11,000 in June to 1,244,500 workers as employment dropped in six major industry sectors, while minor gains were posted in four sectors. The greatest loss occurred in government with 12,100 job losses due to the summer break at public schools and universities.

The largest increase was posted in trade, transportation, and utilities at 1,500 with gains occurred in both wholesale and retail trade. Jobs in construction rose 1,100. Still, compared to July 2016, Arkansas’ nonfarm payroll employment is up 32,900. The trade, transportation and utilities sector – Arkansas’ largest job sector – jobs totaled 257,700, up 1,500 from June’s total and a robust 5,400 above last years’ 252,300 workers.

Jobs in the red-hot education and health services sector rose by 500 month-to-month to 186,300 in July. That total set another record for the sector, which has grown 5% in the past 12 months by adding some 8,200 new positions.

Arkansas’ manufacturing sector has continued its surprising rebound, adding another 600 workers in to pad its July total of 158,900. For the year, the sector has added some 3,700 workers, mostly in the state’s nondurable goods sector that produce fast-moving consumer perishables such as cosmetics, cleaning products, food, condiments, fuel, beer, cigarettes, tobacco and medicine. The sector saw peak employment more than 20 years ago when employment topped out at 247,300 in February 1995.

And now with the summer driving season winding down ahead of the Labor Day weekend in September, Arkansas’ leisure and hospitality sector declined by 1,000 to 124,400. Jobs in the state’s fast-growing tourism and food service industries are still up by 6.3% from 117,300 jobs in July 2016.

Hiring in the construction sector also rose by 1,100 jobs to 52,700 in July and well above year ago levels of 51,400. The state’s mining and logging, which includes jobs in the oil and gas industry, remained flat at 6,100 positions in July and is down 100 workers from a year ago.

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