Jobless rate rises in Fort Smith metro, decline seen in employed and labor force

by Talk Business & Politics staff ( 410 views 

A decline in the number of employed, a labor force dip of almost 1%, and a rise in the number of jobless pushed the jobless rate in the Fort Smith metro from 2.9% in April to 3.2% in May. The May 2018 jobless rate was 3.8%.

U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) data showed 115,135 jobs in the metro area in May, down an estimated 318 jobs compared with the 115,453 jobs in May 2018. The May tally was higher than the 114,832 jobs in March. The May employment also is down 10,291 jobs from peak employment of 125,426 in June 2006, a drop of 8.2%.

The May numbers from the BLS are preliminary and subject to change.

Metro labor force numbers show 118,976 available workers in May, up from the 118,281 in May 2018, but below the 119,965 in April. The number of unemployed in May was an estimated 3,841, down from the 4,512 in May 2018, and above the 3,449 in April.

The May unemployment rate in Northwest Arkansas was 2.3%, down from 2.6% in May 2018. Central Arkansas’ jobless rate was 2.9%. down from 3.2% in May 2018. The Jonesboro metro rate was 2.7%, down from 3% in May 2018.

A related BLS report posted July 12 shows that wages in May 2018 in the Fort Smith metro are 26% below the U.S. average. The May 2018 figures are the most recent available. The data shows the average May wages were $18.52 an hour in the Fort Smith metro, below the U.S. average of $24.98. The report also noted the largest wage gaps were in the legal, management and protective services sectors.

“When compared to the nationwide distribution, local employment was more highly concentrated in 6 of the 22 occupational groups, including production; transportation and material moving; and installation, maintenance, and repair,” the BLS report noted. “Conversely, 10 groups had employment shares significantly below their national representation, including business and financial operations; computer and mathematical; and architecture and engineering.”

Average wages in central Arkansas were $21.65, 13% below the U.S. average, and average wages in Northwest Arkansas were $22.34, 11% below the national average.

Jobs in the Trade, Transportation and Utilities sector, the region’s largest job sector, had an estimated 23,000 jobs, up from 22,800 in April, and down from the 23,100 in May 2018. The sector is off the peak of 24,700 in December 2007.

Manufacturing jobs were an estimated 17,600 in May, unchanged from April, and down from 17,700 in May 2018. Manufacturing jobs reached a high of 31,200 jobs in June 1999, a loss of 13,600 jobs, or 43.6%.

Metro government jobs totaled 18,600 in May, unchanged from April and below the 18,900 in May 2018. The sector first set an employment record of 18,900 in May 2017.

Education and Health Services jobs were an estimated 17,200 in May, unchanged from April, and up from the 17,000 in May 2018. The May figure ties the employment record first set in June 2018.

The Professional and Business Services sector posted 13,300 jobs in May, unchanged from April and above the 13,100 in May 2018. The sector hit an employment record of 13,500 in May 2018.

Tourism jobs – the leisure and hospitality sector – totaled 9,800 in May, up from 9,600 in April and above the 9,700 in May 2018. Regional tourism employment hit a high of 10,100 in June 2016.


Annual average employment per month showed signs of growth in 2016, but dipped in 2017. Following are the past six years of annual average employment per month in the region.
2018: 114,870
2017: 115,156
2016: 115,579
2015: 114,411
2014: 112,705
2013: 112,276

The record for average annual employment per month in the Fort Smith metro was 123,254 in 2007.

Following are the jobless rates among the four counties in the Fort Smith metro.
Crawford County
May 2019: 3%
May 2018: 3.4%

LeFlore County
May 2019: 4.4%
May 2018: 4.5%

Sebastian County
May 2019: 2.8%
May 2018: 3.5%

Sequoyah County
May 2019: 3.7%
May 2018: 4.4%