Arkansas’ unemployment rate fell to an all-time low in September, eclipsing the previous record touched in August and the summer of 2017 when the state’s labor pool climbed to more than 1.35 million workers, state Department of Workforce Services officials reported Friday (Oct. 19).
Through the first nine months of 2018, state labor force data shows Arkansas’ seasonally adjusted unemployment rate decreased one-tenth of a percentage point, from 3.6% in August to 3.5% in September, according to data produced by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics and released by DWS.
“Arkansas’ unemployment rate declined for the third consecutive month,” noted Arkansas BLS Program Operations Manager Susan Price. “September’s rate of 3.5% is the lowest in Arkansas’ recorded history, breaking last year’s record low of 3.6%.”
Arkansas unemployment levels touched an all-time low of 3.5% during a three-month stretch in the summer of 2017 and has not risen above 3.8% since. The state’s jobless rate first fell below 4% in June 2016, the first time at that level since state labor officials began compiling such records.
Earlier this month, BLS officials reported that the U.S. jobless rate dropped two-tenths of a percentage point in September to 3.7%, the lowest level since President Richard Nixon was in office nearly 50 years ago. Over the past year, the U.S. economy has added an average of nearly 196,000 new nonfarm positions to the nation’s job marketplace each month.
Despite all-time low and near-record unemployment levels in Arkansas and nationally, St. Louis Fed President James Bullard said during an economic conference last week in Singapore that U.S. labor force growth is still slower than a decade ago due to demographic factors.
In his talk, Bullard noted that economists’ views of U.S. economic growth are in flux due to the surprisingly strong performance of the U.S. economy relative to projections made in the first half of 2017. As of March 2017, U.S. real GDP growth was projected to be close to 2 percent for 2017, 2018 and 2019, according to the Federal Open Market Committee’s (FOMC) median forecast.
“It now appears growth will exceed that forecast for all three years,” said Bullard, the chief for the Federal Reserve’s Eighth District that includes Arkansas and eight other states. “The U.S. growth surprise has been a factor in allowing the FOMC to normalize its policy rate along a projected path, with attendant consequences for global financial markets.”
Still, Bullard said the continuation of the U.S. growth surprise likely requires faster U.S. productivity growth. The faster-than-forecasted U.S. real GDP growth and lower-than-expected U.S. unemployment rate have allowed the FOMC to normalize along its projected path, he said.
In Arkansas, the state’s record low unemployment rate was supported by 1,220 new jobs added, a result of 891 fewer unemployed and 329 less employed Arkansans. However, at a count of 1,345,646, there are 12,272 fewer workers in the state’s tightening civilian labor force than a year ago.
Between August and September, nonfarm payroll jobs in Arkansas jumped by 19,000 to 1,259,000 as six major sectors added new positions to the state’s labor pool. Government added 12,900 jobs at the local and state levels as seasonal hiring at public schools and universities picked up following Labor Day.
Jobs in educational and health services increased 3,900, attributed in large part to hiring in private educational services. The state’s robust professional and business services sector continued to add new positions, rising 3,600 with the largest gains posted in administrative and support services.
Following the summer vacation season, the state’s leisure and hospitality mothballed some 1,300 positions ahead of the normal fall and winter lull. Most of the contraction was in arts, entertainment and recreation, state labor officials said.
For the year, Arkansas’ nonfarm payroll jobs has increased by 10,700 with growth occurring in six major industry sectors, while five sectors posted declines. Jobs in professional and business services sector rose 6,700, pushing the total number of workers in that mostly white-collar industry to 151,900.
The state’s manufacturing segment also continued its rise, adding 2,300 jobs as both nondurable and durable factories continued to put up “help wanted” signs. Employment in construction increased by 1,500, mostly due to ongoing building and highway upgrade projects in the pipeline across the state.
Jobs in trade, transportation, and utilities, the state’s largest sector, rose by 1,300 to 252,000. Most of the gains were in transportation, warehousing and utilities. Financial activities also added 1,000 jobs as the real estate, insurance and banking sectors continue to seek new hires.
On the other hand, employment in information was down by 1,000 to only 12,000 positions in the state’s labor pool. Nonfarm job growth in the mining and logging, leisure and hospitality, government and other services sectors was flat or slightly down for the 12-month period.
Nationally, unemployment rates were lower in September in nine states, higher in four states, and stable in 37 states and the District of Columbia, BLS data shows. Hawaii had the lowest unemployment rate in July at 2.2%, while Arkansas, California (4.1%), Idaho (2.7%), South Carolina (3.3%), Texas (3.8%), and Washington state (4.4%) set new series lows.
Alaska continues to post the highest jobless rate at 6.4% but is seven-tenths of a percentage point below June’s 7.1%.