Employment and wage growth in Arkansas lagged the rest of the U.S. in the first quarter of 2019 as the tight job market threatens to slow better employment opportunities and pay increase momentum for middle-class workers in the nation’s growing labor pool.
According to data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics released Wednesday (Aug. 21), national employment rose to 146.5 million in March 2019, a 1.4% increase over the year. From March 2018 to March 2019, there were employment gains in 298 of the 355 largest U.S. counties, BLS data shows.
Concerning weekly payrolls, average wages for the nation’s labor pool increased to $1,184 in the same period, a 2.8% raise over the year. Among the 355 largest counties, 325 had over-the-year increases in average weekly wages with San Francisco County in northern California seeing the largest over-the-year again at 10.2%.
In Arkansas, employment and weekly pay levels were below the national average at 0.7% and 2.2%, according to BLS data. As of March 2019, there were 1,218,500 employees working at 92,000 covered establishments in Arkansas making an average of $896 per week.
The new data U.S. Labor Department economic research group highlight concerns in some corners that the average American is seeking fewer pay increases than a year ago as many U.S. workers take on more consumer debt and delay major household purchases, including purchasing a home. Some economists say the recent struggles in the nation’s tightening red-hot job market shows that employers are still struggling to fill key blue collar and high-skilled positions.
In addition, newly revised data posted by the U.S. Labor Department on Wednesday shows the nation’s job market produced a half-million fewer jobs than previously thought over the past year.
Nationally, the Paychex-IHS Markit Small Business Employment also shows that while employment growth continues to stagnate in 2019, wage earners have seen a slight-up in pay after a lull in late 2018 and the first quarter of 2019, as noted in the new BLS data.
“It’s not surprising to see continued lower job growth and wage increases in this tight labor market,” said Martin Mucci, Paychex president and CEO. “While finding good candidates continues to present hiring challenges for small employers, the data shows that employees are seeing steady increases in hourly earnings.”
TOP ARKANSAS COUNTIES
Arkansas’ three largest metropolitan areas show mixed results in the first quarter of 2019. For example, Pulaski County 184th and 191th by percentage of employment and wage growth of 1% and 2.4%, respectively. In the state’s largest county, there were 251,700 employees working at 14,600 covered workplaces making under just $1,000 per week.
In fast-growing Northwest Arkansas, Benton County saw a 1.2% gain in employment growth, but fell in weekly pay by 0.2%. By percentage growth, that ranks the state’s second largest county by population 159th and 331st in those two respective categories for the 12-month period. And despite the negative wage growth in the past year, Benton County workers still are still the highest earners in Arkansas with average paychecks of $1,496 per week, which is 67% above the state average.
Washington County ranked 118th and 269th nationally with respective year-over-year employment and wage growth of 1.6% and 1.4%, BLS data shows. The state’s third largest county by population had 109,200 workers employed at 6,200 local establishments for the past months. Those workers make on average about $865 per week.
Across the U.S., Midland, Texas had the largest over-the-year percentage increase in employment at 5.8%. Within Midland, the largest employment increase occurred in natural resources and mining, which gained 2,745 jobs over the year, up 9.6%, primarily in the West Texas shale-rich oil and gas industry.
Bay, Fla., experienced the largest over-the-year percentage decrease in employment, with a loss of 5.9%. Within Bay, education and health services had the largest employment decrease with a whopping 21.8% loss of 2,449 jobs.
San Francisco County, home to the nation’s 14th-largest city of the same name, had the largest over-the-year percentage increase in average weekly wages at 10.2%. Within the West Coast county, there was an average weekly wage gain of $1,391, or 77.5% with the trade, transportation, and utilities sector making the largest contribution to the county’s spike in weekly wages.
Elkhart, Ind., had the largest over-the-year percentage decrease in average weekly wages with a loss of 7.6%. Elkhart’s manufacturing sector had the largest impact with an average weekly wage decline of $137, or 12.7% over the year.
All the 10 largest counties had over-the-year percentage increases in employment and average weekly wages. In March 2019, Maricopa County, Ariz., home to the nation’s 5th largest city in Phoenix, had the largest over-the-year employment percentage gain among the 10 largest counties at 2.9%. That fast-growing metropolitan area’s professional and business services sector had the largest employment increase with a gain of 11,317 jobs, or 3.4%.