Arkansas jobless rate holds steady at 3.5%, employment sets new record

by Wesley Brown (wesbrocomm@gmail.com) 176 views 

Arkansas’ unemployment rate held steady at 3.5% for the second straight month as the state’s civilian labor pool closes in on levels not seen in nearly a decade.

According to labor force data produced by U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) and released by the Arkansas Department of Workforce Services (DWS), Arkansas’ seasonally adjusted jobless rate remained at 3.5%, just off the record low of 3.4% touched in May, June and July. Arkansas’ civilian labor force added 1,435 workers, a result of 938 additional employed and 497 more unemployed Arkansans. The state’s brimming labor pool now has a total of 1,379,592 workers, up from 1,378,157 in August and a strong 38,100 from 1,341,157 laborers a year ago.

“Arkansas’ unemployment rate remained stable at 3.5% in September,” said Susan Price, Arkansas’ BLS Program operations manager. “While the number of employed Arkansans increased slightly from last month, there are 43,387 more employed than in September 2016.”

In August, a record 1,329,979 people were employed in Arkansas, beating the previous record of 1,327,941 in July of this year. That number has now reached a total of 1,330,925 employed, setting another all-time high. The Arkansas civilian labor pool, which includes employed workers and the 48,667 unemployed workers, is just off the all-time record of 1,396,451 reached in November 2008.

Following big job announcements in Northwest Arkansas and the Little Rock metro area, Gov. Asa Hutchinson earlier this month attributed the record number of employed workers across the state to private sector confidence in the economy. He said, in addition to the state’s successful efforts to recruit industry, there is a growing appreciation nationally of the state’s strong workforce and natural resources.

“Our aggressive recruiting nationally and around the world is paying off as more and more industries expand or relocate to Arkansas,” Hutchinson said. “From our computer science initiative to the state’s strong workforce, companies are taking notice. While there’s always more work to be done, these statistics are a good indication that Arkansas’s economy continues to trend in the right direction, and—more importantly—that Arkansans are finding work.”

Nationally, the U.S. unemployment rate declined two-tenths of a percentage point between months to 4.2% and was 0.7% lower than in September 2016. North Dakota had the lowest unemployment rate in September at 2.4%, closely followed by Colorado and Hawaii at 2.5%. Alaska had the nation’s highest jobless rate at 7.2%.

Nonfarm payroll employment decreased in six states in September 2017, increased in five states, and was essentially unchanged in 39 states and the District of Columbia. Over the year, 28 states added nonfarm payroll jobs and 22 states and the District were essentially unchanged.

In Arkansas, nonfarm payroll jobs rose by 15,500 in September to 1,258,300. Six major industry sectors posted declines, while four sectors added jobs. The largest increase occurred in government jobs at 12,400, while new positions in educational and health services rose 3,100. The state’s vibrant leisure and hospitality sector, which closed out the summer vacation season on Labor Day, posted the greatest decline at 4,000.

The trade, transportation and utilities sector – Arkansas’ largest job sector – now totals 253,500, down from 255,500 in August but still 1,300 above year ago levels. Jobs in the red-hot education and health services sector rose by a healthy 3,100 month-to-month to 190,600 in September. That total set another record for the sector, which has added 5,300 new positions over the past 12 months.

Arkansas’ manufacturing sector continued to rebound in 2017, adding 1,300 new workers to reach 160,200. That tally is well ahead of year ago totals of 155,500 as the state’s nondurable goods sector that produces fast-moving consumer perishables such as cosmetics, cleaning products, food, condiments, fuel, beer, cigarettes, tobacco and medicine added 4,700 jobs in the past year. The sector saw peak employment more than 20 years ago when employment topped out at 247,300 in February 1995.

As noted, Arkansas’ leisure and hospitality sector declined by 4,000 to 119,200 as the tourist destinations across the state mothballed some of their seasonal facilities. The tourism and food service industries still have added 1,700 jobs in the past year, up from 117,500 a year ago.

Hiring in the construction trade rose by 1,100 to 53,400 in September, well above year ago levels of 51,300. The state’s mining and logging sector, which includes jobs in the oil and gas industry, remained flat for the second straight month at 6,100 positions in September, slightly below a year ago.

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