Arkansas sees 10,000 labor pool decline in December; ends year with stable 3.7% jobless rate

by Wesley Brown ([email protected]) 366 views 

Arkansas closed out the final month of the year with 10,000 fewer workers in the state’s brimming labor pool and the unemployment rate was unchanged at 3.7% for the second straight month, according to monthly labor force data released Tuesday (Jan. 23) by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

The December unemployment report for Arkansas largely mirrors the U.S. unemployment report from two weeks ago, which showed the nation’s labor market hit a snag with only 148,000 nonfarm jobs added to employer payrolls in the final month of year, well below Wall Street expectations.

In Arkansas, labor force data produced by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics and released by the Arkansas Department of Workforce Services (DWS) shows there was a decrease of 10,088 from the state’s civilian labor pool, a result of 10,167 fewer employed and 79 more unemployed Arkansans.

“While the size of the civilian labor force declined, it was not enough to impact the unemployment rate,” said BLS Program Operations Manager Susan Price.

Arkansas still ended 2017 with a total of 1,362,173 workers in the labor pool, up 24,862 from a year ago. Despite the drop-out of 10,000 people out of the workforce in December and another 6,000 in November, Arkansas closed out 2017 just below the state’s all-time civilian labor force record of 1,379,610 touched in September. Earlier this summer, Arkansas’ jobless rate touched an all-time low of 3.4% for three straight months.

Arkansas’ nonfarm payroll employment decreased 7,300 in December to total 1,256,700 with nine major industry sectors posted job declines, while two reported small gains.

The greatest job loss was in leisure and hospitality at 2,300, while food services saw a decline of 1,900 jobs due to a combination of seasonal factors and recent restaurant closures, state workforce officials said. Employment in high-flying professional and business services sector fell 2,100 with a majority of the loss posted in administrative and support services.

Jobs in trade, transportation, and utilities declined 1,200, largely affected by retail trade.  This was due in part to reported contractions at stores that do not typically see holiday hiring, such as convenience stores, pharmacies and grocery stores, DWS officials said. Construction also was down 1,100, a typical seasonal drop. Arkansas’ education, health and manufacturing sectors lead 2017 job growth

Compared to December 2016, however, nonfarm payroll jobs in Arkansas are up by 16,100 positions. Seven major industries reported robust growth, with four adding 3,100 or more jobs each. For example, employment in educational and health services rose 5,800 to 191,5000 in December.  Gains were posted in both health care and social assistance and educational services.

But the biggest surprise was an increase of 5,200 manufacturing jobs, largely in nondurable goods manufacturing with 5,000 new positions. Today, there are a total of 161,000 manufacturing jobs in Arkansas, up 3.3% from 155,900 a year ago.

Professional and business services closed out the year with 148,200 jobs, up 3,200 from year ago.  Expansions in administrative-support services and professional-scientific-technical services more than offset the losses in management of companies.  Jobs in construction rose 3,100, with specialty trade construction up 1,800.

In the loss column, employment in trade, transportation and utilities, the state’s largest industry, declined 1,800 to 255,500 workers with most of the loss posted in retail trade. Jobs in government, the state’s second-largest job sector, were also down for the year by 1,100 to 214,400 positions. Most of the job losses came in local government.

There will not be another snapshot of the Arkansas’ labor pool until mid-March, when the BLS releases its annual revisions concerning the nation’s employment picture. University of Arkansas at Little Rock economist Michael Pakko said he expects major changes will likely be made to bottom line estimates for the Arkansas and U.S. workforce, both of which were highlighted by near-record or all-time high employment levels and unemployment rate lows.

Nationwide, the U.S. unemployment rate held at 4.1% for the third consecutive month with the number of unemployed persons at 6.6 million, essentially unchanged month to month. Over the year, the unemployment rate and the number of unemployed persons were down by 0.6% and 926,000, respectively.

Hawaii had the lowest unemployment rate in December at only 2%. The rates in Hawaii, California (4.3%) and Mississippi (4.6%) set new series lows, while Alaska had the highest jobless rate at 7.3%. Unemployment rates were lower in December in 6 states and the District of Columbia, higher in one state, and stable in 43 states, the BLS reported.