U.S. unemployment falls to 3.8%, now matches Arkansas jobless rate

by Wesley Brown (wesbrocomm@gmail.com) 298 views 

The unemployment rate for the nation’s sizzling job market fell to its lowest level in 18 years as 223,000 were added to the nation’s labor pool in May, according to new data released Friday (June 1) by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).

At 3.8%, U.S. unemployment now matches Arkansas’ jobless rate, which was a full point above the national average just a year ago when it dropped to an all-time low of 3.5% in May, June and July. While Arkansas’ jobless rate has remained stagnant over the past 12 months, U.S. Labor Department officials said the U.S. unemployment rate has declined seven percentage points over the same period to levels not seen since turn of the century.

“With the unemployment rate falling to 3.8% in May, the lowest in over 18 years, America’s job market remains strong,” said U.S. Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta. “With 223,000 jobs created in May, America’s job creators have now added over 3.4 million jobs since President Trump’s election. That job increase includes more than a million jobs since the president signed his tax cuts package into law five months ago.”

Two weeks ago, Arkansas Department of Workforce Services (DWS) officials reported that Arkansas’ unemployment held steady at 3.8% for the third straight month as 1,093 workers fell out of the state’s 1,351,983-person labor pool. Of the nearly 1,100 workers that were moved to the sidelines of the state’s job marketplace, there were 1,398 fewer employed and 305 unemployed.

“Despite the small decline in the size of the civilian labor force, Arkansas’ unemployment rate remained unchanged in April,” said Susan Price, the state’s BLS operations manager.

Last month, BLS officials reported the nation’s jobless fell below 4% for the first time since President Bill Clinton was in office. Following Friday’s report, total nonfarm payroll employment has averaged 191,000 over the prior 12 months with several key industries seeing large gains, including retail, healthcare and construction.

Despite those gains, there are still growing concerns the employers won’t be able to hire enough qualified workers for the job market to maintain the current red-hot pace. In the monthly Mid-America Business Conditions Index, Creighton University economist Ernie Goss noted that 52.6% of business executives surveyed this month indicated finding and hiring qualified workers was the greatest 2018 economic challenge facing their firms.

“Even with the May upturn, the share of supply managers reporting labor shortages continues to grow,” said Goss, director of Creighton University’s Economic Forecasting Group.

Nationwide, the number of unemployed persons also edged down by 200,000 workers between months to 6.1 million workers. Among the major worker groups, the unemployment rates for adult men (3.5%), Blacks (5.9%) and Asians (2.1%) decline in May from the previous months. The jobless rates for adult women (3.3%), teenagers (12.8%), Whites (3.5%), and Hispanics (4.9%) changed little over the month.

The number of long-term unemployed, or those jobless for 27 weeks or more, was little changed at 1.2 million in May and accounted for 19.4% of the unemployed. The labor force participation rate was 62.7 for the month and the employment-population ratio held steady at 60.4%.

The number of persons employed part time for economic reasons was essentially unchanged at 4.9 million in May. These individuals, who would have preferred full-time employment, were working part time because their hours had been reduced or they were unable to find full-time jobs.

The number of persons marginal marginally attached to the labor force, at 1.5 million in May, was little different from a year earlier. These individuals were not in the labor force, wanted and were available for work, and had looked for a job sometime in the prior 12 months.

Among the 223,000 job additions in May, employment in the retail trade increased by 31,000. Over the past 12 months, the industry has added 125,000 jobs. Employment in healthcare rose by 29,000 in May, nearly in line with the average monthly gain over the prior 12 months. Construction jobs also continued an upward trend with gains of 25,000 in May and has risen by 286,000 over the past 12 months.

Employment in professional and technical services rose by 23,000 and has jumped by 206,000 over the year. Transportation and warehousing added 19,000 jobs over the month and 156,000 over the year, while manufacturing employment continued to expand over the month (+18,000). Manufacturing employment has risen by 259,000 over the year, with about three-fourths of the growth in durable goods industries.

Employment in mining, which includes the oil and gas sector, increased by 6,000 at the end of the first five months of 2018. Mining employment has risen by 91,000 since a recent low in October 2016. Employment changed little in other major industries, including wholesale trade, information, financial activities, leisure and hospitality, and government.

The average workweek for all employees on private nonfarm payrolls was unchanged at 34.5 hours in May. In manufacturing, the workweek fell by 0.2 hour to 40.8 hours; overtime edged down by 0.2 hour to 3.5 hours.

Average hourly earnings for all employees on private nonfarm payrolls rose by eight cents to $26.92. Over the year, average hourly earnings have increased by 71 cents, or 2.7%. Average hourly earnings for private-sector production and nonsupervisory employees increased by seven cents to $22.59 in May.

The change in total nonfarm payroll employment for March was revised up from 135,000 to 155,000, and the change for April was revised down from 164,000 to 159,000. With these revisions, employment gains in March and April combined were 15,000 more than previously reported.