Arkansas’ jobless rate tumbles to 3.6%, state labor pool declines by nearly 1,700 workers

by Wesley Brown ( 226 views 

Arkansas’ unemployment rate edged back closer to last summer’s all-time low as nonfarm payroll hires in government and education offset fewer job adds in other sectors, according to newly released state workforce data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).

On Friday, the state Department of Workforce Services reported that Arkansas’ seasonally adjusted unemployment rate declined one-tenth of a percentage point to 3.6% in August. State workforce officials said the updated BLS data showed a second straight monthly decline in the state’s labor pool of 1,346,758 by 1,693 workers, a result of a positive trend of 1,419 fewer unemployed and 274 more employed Arkansans.

“Down to 3.6% in August, Arkansas’ unemployment rate decreased for the second month in a row. This is due in part to declines in the number of unemployed over the last several months,” said Susan Price, operation manager for the state’s BLS Program.

Arkansas unemployment touched an all-time low of 3.4% during a three-month stretch in the summer of 2017 and has not risen above 3.8% since. However, the gap between the state and U.S. jobless rate has widened since the Arkansas unemployment rate matched the national average earlier in the summer.

Two weeks ago, U.S. Labor Department officials reported that the national unemployment rate was unchanged from July at 3.9%, which is still 0.5 percentage point lower than in August 2017. A year ago, Arkansas unemployment stood at 3.7%, but had nearly 11,000 more workers on payroll.

Between July and Arkansas, nonfarm payroll jobs in Arkansas rose by 1,000 to 1,238,900 as two major service sectors more than offset declines in seven, mostly blue-collar industries. Jobs in government rose 3,200 as hiring at the local and state level largely reflected the start of the Arkansas public school year.

Employment in educational and health services also increased by 900 due to seasonal hiring at private school facilities. Among the decliners, jobs in manufacturing fell by 1,200 as durable goods employers reported losses at wood product and machinery factories.

Compared to a year ago, Arkansas’ nonfarm payroll employment is up by 8,000 positions with six major industries expanding and five sectors reporting losses. Jobs in professional and business services continued to advance as employment agencies reported brisk hiring of more than 5,800 workers in administration and support services.

Despite difficulty in finding workers to fill positions, jobs in construction have increased 1,900 as hiring by specialty trade contractors has supported most of those gains. Employment in manufacturing also rose by the same margin with the bulk of those positions at so-called “soft goods” or nondurable goods plants.

The state’s largest sector — trade transportation and utilities – was down by 1,000 from a year ago to 250,500 workers in the state’s brimming labor pool. Information and leisure and hospitality, which includes the state’s tourism industry, saw job losses of 1,000 and 500, respectively.

Mining, which includes the state’s oil and gas sector, has laid off 300 workers since August 2017 as two of the top three Fayetteville Shale producers have announced plans to exit or auction their assets in the Arkansas natural gas shale play. Government jobs, the state’s second-largest sector, also was down year-over-year by 300.

Nationally, unemployment rates were lower in August in 13 states, higher in 3 states, and stable in 34 states and the District of Columbia, BLS data shows. Hawaii had the lowest unemployment rate in July at 2.1%, while Alaska continues to post the highest jobless rate at 6.7%.