Arkansas’ jobless rates edges up to 3.5% as state labor pool sheds workers

by Wesley Brown (wesbrocomm@gmail.com) 226 views 

Arkansas’ jobless rate moved off the state’s record low and now matches the national average at 3.5% touched earlier this month, according to monthly U.S Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) data released Friday (Oct. 10).

Through September, Arkansas’ unemployment rate rose 0.1 percentage point as the state’s civilian labor force declined by 319, a result of 552 fewer employed and 233 fewer unemployed workers.  Two weeks ago, the U.S. Labor Department reported that the nation’s unemployment rate fell 0.2 percentage points to a 50-year low of 3.5%, but slow job growth still stoked fears of an economic slowdown nationwide.

State labor officials, however, said Arkansas’ rising jobless rate and the loss of more than 1,150 jobs in the past two months is not all cause for concern. With the state’s civil labor pool at 1,363,193 through the first nine months of 2019, the number of employed persons has risen by 12,666 and there are 2,179 fewer unemployment persons.

“Although Arkansas’ unemployment rate rose one-tenth of a percentage point in September, the civilian labor force remained statistically stable. Compared to September 2018, Arkansas’ labor force has grown by 10,487,” said Susan Price, BLS operations manager for the Department of Workforce Services.

According to economist Greg Kaza, executive director at the Arkansas Policy Foundation, Arkansas has seen job growth at 10.3% in the ongoing decade-long expansion that followed the last recession. Since June 2009, nonfarm jobs in Arkansas has grown from 1,160,900 to 1,280,000, he said. That labor pool expansion outpaces all the seven surrounding states except for Texas and Tennessee, which has seen job growth of 24.9% and 19.9%, respectively.

Arkansas’ jobless rates matches the U.S. average at 3.5%, ranking the Natural State at 27 among the 50 states and the District of Columbia. Going into the fourth quarter of 2019, BLS data shows unemployment rates were lower in September in seven states, higher in four states, and stable in 39 states and the D.C. area.

Vermont had the lowest unemployment rate in September at 2.2% percent, while Alaska continues to have the highest jobless rate at 6.2%. The rates in Alabama (3%), California (4%), Illinois (3.9%), New Jersey (3.1%), and South Carolina (2.9%) all set new series lows.

Despite the U.S. jobless rate falling to a 50-year low and all-time or near-record low employment rates in most states, there are still concerns about slowing job growth in all pockets of the economy. In September, nonfarm payroll employment climbed by only 136,000 between months, slightly below the 145,000 payroll positions forecasted by Wall Street economists. That pushes U.S. job growth through the third quarter of 2019 to a monthly average of 161,000, well below the average monthly gain of 223,000 in 2018, BLS data shows.

Arkansas nonfarm payroll jobs increased 16,600 in September to total 1,286,200 as four major industry sectors posted gains, more than offsetting declines in five sectors. Mirroring the national trend, government added 13,000 jobs in September, mostly due to the post-Labor Day back-to-school return of teachers and staff at most public schools and universities.

Jobs in educational and health services also rose 4,100 with most of the expansion in educational services related to increased hiring at private schools. Employment in professional and business services increased 2,200 with key hiring noted in administrative and support services, which includes employment agencies.

In the construction industry, which has struggled to hire qualified workers to fill open jobs, Arkansas added 1,200 jobs as work continues on several major projects, state labor officials said. Nationally, construction employment increased in 28 states from August to September, according to the Associated General Contractors of America.

In the loss column, manufacturing posted the largest decline with 1,400 workers ending up on unemployment rolls. Most of the losses were reported at durable goods sector where there were noted reductions at fabricated metal product and machinery factories.

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