Arkansas manufacturing sector adds 1,200 jobs in May, jobless rate remains at 3.8%

by Wesley Brown (wesbrocomm@gmail.com) 303 views 

Arkansas’ manufacturing sector continued to outperform most of the state’s economy in 2018 as another 1,200 jobs were added at mostly “soft good” factories across the state between May and June, state labor officials reported Friday (June 15).

Overall, Arkansas’ jobless rate remained unchanged at 3.8% for the fourth straight month, matching the nation’s declining unemployment percentage that has fallen to levels not seen in nearly 20 years. There are now an average of 191,000 people added to the U.S. civilian labor force each month over the past year, according to data produced by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) and released each month by the state Department of Workforce Services (DWS).

In May, Arkansas’ seasonally adjusted unemployment rate was unchanged at 3.8% as another 1,616 workers fell out of the state’s 1,351,310-person labor pool on top of the 1,093 workhands that chose to leave the state’s red-hot job marketplace in April, BLS officials said.

Among the workers moved to the sidelines of the state’s job marketplace, there were 1,197 fewer employed and 419 unemployed. Yet, “fluctuations in the number of employed and unemployed were not significant enough to effect the rate,” said Susan Price, operations manager for the state’s BLS program.

Nonfarm payroll jobs in Arkansas increased 3,700 in May to total 1,253,600. Eight major industry sectors posted gains, two saw declines, and one was stable. By far, the state’s manufacturing sector was the biggest gainer with 1,200 new hires, and 83% of those jobs in the nondurable or soft goods sector that produces food, clothing and other perishable items that are consumed in three years.

Jobs in educational and health services increased 1,000.  All gains were posted in health care and social assistance. There were also seasonal expansions occurred in trade-transportation-utilities, leisure and hospitality and construction sectors.

ANNUAL COMPARISONS
Compared to a year ago, Arkansas’ nonfarm payroll employment is up 6,500 with six major reporting gains and five sectors on the decline. The state’s manufacturing sector, which has historically been the strongest performing blue-collar sector, has seen a gain of 4,100 jobs over the 12-month period and now has 160,300 workers.

Professional and business services also added 2,800 jobs over the 12-month period.  Gains in administrative and support services more than offset small declines in management of companies and professional-scientific-technical services. Jobs in trade, transportation, and utilities rose by 1,100 with growth in the beleaguered retail trade and transportation-warehousing-utilities.

Employment in the state’ largest sector — trade, transportation and utilities – has increased by 1,100, with 900 jobs added in the past month. Employers in the information sector continues to see losses with 900 workers moving out of the workforce since May 2017. Those losses are mainly due to job cuts in telecom and data processing.

Unlike the rest of the nation, Arkansas’ construction sector continues to shed workers, losing 400 between April and May. The Associated General Contractors of America (AGC) noted that 42 states and the District of Columbia added construction jobs in May. However, association officials warned that soaring construction costs, aggravated by new tariffs on steel and aluminum, could trigger project cancellations and job losses.

“It is heartening to see such widespread construction job gains,” said AGC chief economist Ken Simonson. “However, unexpected, steep cost increases for many materials may force some contractors to lay off workers, while passing on price hikes will likely cause public agencies and private owners to delay or cancel projects.”

NATIONAL ECONOMIC CONDITIONS
Earlier this week, the nation’s sizzling job market caused the Federal Reserve’s Open Market Committee to raise the federal funds rate for the second time in 2018 by 25 basis points to between 1.75% and 2%. In a press conference on Wednesday announcing the hike in the rate banks charge each other for overnight loans, which in turn is used to determine the interest rate most consumers would receive on a loan, newly-seated Fed Chairman Jerome Powell said the nation’s job market will continue to lead the economy in 2018.

The Fed updated its yearly forecast for the nation’s unemployment rate to 3.6% to 3.7% compared to the earlier predictions of 3.6% to 3.8%. For other key economic indicators, the nation’s Central bank forecasts real Gross Domestic Product (GDP) to grow 2.7% to 3.0% and the core personal consummation expenditure (PCE) inflation rate to hold at 2.0% to 2.1%.

The national unemployment rate edged down from April to 3.8% and was 0.5 percentage point lower than in May 2017. The BLS reported unemployment rates were lower in 14 states in May, and stable in 36 states and the District of Columbia. Eleven states had jobless rate decreases from a year earlier and remainder had little or no change. The national jobless rate is five percentage points lower than a year ago.

Hawaii continues to have the nation’s lowest unemployment rate, setting a new all-time low at a tidy 2%. Altogether, 13 states had unemployment rates lower than the U.S. unemployment figure, 17 states and the District of Columbia had higher rates, and 20 states had rates that were not appreciably different from the national average.

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