UA Walton College economist Mervin Jebaraj said there should be little complaining about Arkansas’ record low unemployment rate of 3.4%, but he warned that there are some fractures that make the overall state picture look rosier than it actually is.
Jebaraj, who appeared on this week’s edition of Talk Business & Politics, said there are more people exiting the overall labor force, which contributed to the record low rate two months in a row. He also said the state’s labor force participation rate remains below a healthy 60% reading.
“In all the talk of the record low unemployment rate here in the state, we don’t talk about where the unemployment rate isn’t at its record low,” he said. “Roughly slightly more than half the counties in the state, the unemployment rate is above the statewide average and it might be two points higher to three points higher than the statewide average, so yes, the state’s unemployment rate is 3.4%. There are parts of Arkansas where the state’s unemployment rate has remained at about 5.5%, 6.5%, 7.5%.”
“So, in spite of the really low unemployment rate that we’ve sustained for a very long time, there are still issues, there are still counties and regions of the state that are not doing as well,” Jebaraj added.
The Fayetteville economist said that the central, northwest and northeast Arkansas metropolitan areas around Little Rock, Fayetteville-Bentonville, and Jonesboro respectively, have been supporting a lot of the job growth and contributing to the low jobless rate.
“If you think about, you know, you’re looking at median income, unemployment rates, or any of these labor force participation rates, a lot of the labor force growth does happen in central Arkansas and northwest Arkansas and in northeast Arkansas and the Jonesboro MSA and that if you removed the economic growth and the job growth that you see in those regions of the state, the state would be in a much poorer position than it is today,” he said.
Jebaraj said that he is seeing potential problems in the healthcare sector in rural parts of the state despite several years of stability thanks to the Affordable Care Act. Watch his full interview in the video below.