Arkansas jobless rate holds at 3.6%, nonfarm payrolls at record levels

by Wesley Brown (wesbrocomm@gmail.com) 141 views 

Arkansas’ unemployment rate held for the second straight month at 3.6% as continued strong job growth across several industry sectors pushed nonfarm payroll jobs to record levels in May, state labor officials reported Friday (June 21).

The jobs data posted Friday by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) and released by the state Department of Workforce Services (DWS) shows the total number of employed in Arkansas at 1,313,429, up 2,543 from a month ago and a robust 13,365 job additions from a year ago.

The state’s labor force – the number of people eligible to work – rose by 1,410 to  1,361,929, up 0.9% or 11,897 from May 2018. Compared to a year ago, the state’s nonfarm payroll jobs increased to a record total of 1,283,400, although the monthly market summary is preliminary and subject to revision.

Susan Price, operations manager of Arkansas’ BLS program, highlighted the record number of nonfarm jobs in May, where five major industry sectors contributed to the state’s growing labor pool as Arkansas enters the vacation hiring season.

“Nonfarm payroll jobs rose 3,900 in May to hit a new record high. Two major industry sectors – Leisure and Hospitality and Other Services – reached record high levels,” said Price. “Compared to May 2018, nonfarm payroll jobs are up 14,300.”

The Arkansas job growth in May, which follows 10,700 new jobs added to the state’s economy in April, is just off the state’s all-time low of 3.5% in October and matches the nation’s unemployment rate at 3.6%. Earlier this month, the U.S. Department of Labor reported that U.S. economy added only 75,000 jobs in May, and further revised March and April numbers downward by another 75,000 jobs.

That tepid job growth, which fell well below Wall Street expectations, did not cause the Federal Reserve to lower interest rates  when the nation’s monetary policymakers met earlier this week, although President Donald Trump and St. Louis Fed President James Bullard were among those calling for further cuts to stimulate economic and job growth.

However, the Federal Reserve’s Open Market Committee (FOMC) still voted 9.1 on Wednesday to keep the target range for the federal funds rate at 2.25% to 2.50%, but left open the possibility of future cuts later this year if economic conditions wane. Bullard, the Fed president for the expansive Eighth District that includes Arkansas, cast the lone vote top to cut the federal funds target rate by 25 basis points.

Economist Greg Kaza, director of the Little Rock-based Arkansas Policy Foundation, is bullish on the Arkansas and U.S. job market expansion. Kaza noted following the release of Friday’s job data that Arkansas’ 3.6% unemployment rate represents broad-based U.S. growth across multiple employment sectors.

“(This) is a reminder the national economy is on the verge of the longest economic expansion in U.S. history, barring a decline in national employment next month,” Kaza said. “The expansion’s duration in July will be 10 years and one month, surpassing the previous record of 10 years (from) March 1991 to March 2001.”

As noted, statewide nonfarm payroll jobs in Arkansas jumped by 3,900 to 1,283,400 between April and May as five major sectors added new positions to the state’s labor pool. Employment in leisure and hospitality and other services touched series high with job gains of 1,200 and 600 respectively in May. Employment in trade, transportation, and utilities, the state’s largest sector at 254,400 positions, also rose by 2,900 in May.

There are now 123,200 working in Arkansas’ leisure and hospitality industry, which is ramping up for busy year as tax revenue for the state’s tourism industry in 2019 is already ahead of record collections in 2018. Growth in “other sectors,“ which includes uncategorized jobs such as dating and pet care services, grantmaking, advocacy and religious promotions, also set a series record at 54,400 positions, up 900 from a year ago.

For the year, Arkansas’ nonfarm payroll jobs has increased by 14,300 with growth occurring in nine major industry sectors, with six adding 1,400 or more jobs. Employment in trade-transportation-utilities rose by 3,300 with hiring across all subsectors. The state’s manufacturing sector continues to post “help wanted” signs with expansions of 3,100 at durable and nondurable factories.

Employment in construction also rose by 2,500 as several large-scale projects come online, state labor officials said. Employment in leisure and hospitality rose 2,100 for the year with key hiring in food services, while educational and health services added another 1,400 to add to the 193,400 yearly tally.

Government jobs also grew by 1,400 jobs for the year with small additions posted at the local, state and national level. Information and mining and logging were the lone decliners with both sectors losing 300 jobs over the past 12 months.

Nationally, unemployment rates were lower in May in six states, higher in two states, and stable in 42 states and the District of Columbia, BLS data shows. Vermont had the lowest unemployment rate with an all-time low at 2.1%, while Alaska continues to post the highest jobless rate at 6.4%. Twenty-four states had over-the-year increases in nonfarm payroll employment in May. Texas had the largest gain at 286,000, followed by California and Florida at 282,700 and 214,500, respectively.

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