Arkansas’ jobless rate remains steady at 3.5%; more than 1,600 new jobs added last month

by Wesley Brown (wesbrocomm@gmail.com) 305 views 

Following several big job announcements across the state in the last month, Arkansas’ unemployment rate remained unchanged at 3.5% as the civilian labor pool increased by a tidy 1,626 jobs between September and October.

Labor force data, produced by the U.S Labor Department’s Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) and released Tuesday (Nov. 19) by the Arkansas Division of Workforce Services (DWS), show Arkansas’ seasonally adjusted unemployment rate now 0.1 percentage point below the U.S. jobless rate.

The new job additions to the state’s brimming labor pool were the result of Arkansas’ civilian labor force gaining an additional 937 employed and 689 more unemployed Arkansans. The U.S. and Arkansas jobless rate does not include people considered to be outside the labor force who would like to work but have given up due to lack of opportunities, an injury or illness.

“Arkansas’ unemployment rate was unchanged at 3.5% in October, as gains in employment and unemployment were small,” said Susan Price, Arkansas’ BLS program operations manager. “Despite recent fluctuations in employment, there are currently 12,736 more employed Arkansans compared to October 2018.”

At a news conference on Monday announcing 24 new “high-paying” jobs and the location of a new corporate headquarters for Express Rx, a rural drugstore operator, Gov. Asa Hutchinson touted the recent gains in the state’s rising labor pool that now includes 1,363,806 workers 16 years or older on employee payrolls or unemployed and seeking work.

“We are having a good month. (Arkansas Department of Commerce) Secretary Mike Preston is here and we had lunch earlier and he shared with me that over the last month we have six announcements that have resulted in 1,700 new jobs in Arkansas,” Hutchinson said.

Besides Express Rx’s new headquarters, Hutchinson and Preston, who remains as the director of the state Economic Development Commission under the governor’s reorganized cabinet, have attended other job announcements, expansions or ribbon-cuttings since early October in Conway, Jonesboro, Osceola, Eudora and Little Rock.

By far, the most significant job announcement came on Oct. 22, when Hutchinson and Preston attending a ceremony in Conway heralding DXC Technology’s plans to expand its operation and create 1,200 jobs over the next three years. The global IT firm that was created through the merger of Computer Sciences Corp. and Hewlett Packard Enterprise Services in 2016 has said the Arkansas expansion plans will swell its central Arkansas workforce to 1,600.

Overall, Hutchinson said on Monday that since he took office in January 2015, state and local economic developers have signed incentive agreements for more than 400 projects, which have led to the creation of nearly 17,000 jobs. The agreements have produced nearly $9 billion in investment in Arkansas, AEDC officials said.

According to economist Greg Kaza, executive director at the Arkansas Policy Foundation, Arkansas has seen double-digit job growth at 10.4% in the ongoing decade-long expansion that followed the last recession. Still, he said, the state’s economy faces both upside and downside pressures ahead as the labor pool nears full employment.

“The good news is that the unemployment rate is very low as the economy confronts full employment,” said Kaza. “The bad news is that payroll employment growth (10.4%) continues to trail the U.S. average (16%) in the current expansion. Ideally, the state or local job creation rate should equal or exceed the national average.”

Arkansas’ nonfarm payroll jobs rose by 5,800 in October to 1,291,700 as gains were posted in eight major industries, while three sectors slightly declined. Unlike the national trend, Arkansas added 2,100 blue collar jobs in manufacturing with expansion at both durable and nondurable factories due to seasonal hiring at food manufacturing facilities and some recalled workers.

Employment in professional and business services rose 1,800, and jobs in trade, transportation and utilities jumped by 1,400. Meanwhile, as the state’s tourism industry goes into hibernation during the winter season, 900 workers were moved to the sidelines. Financial activities also lost 500 workers during the month, primarily from layoffs in the insurance industry.

Year-over-year, Arkansas’ nonfarm payroll jobs are up 18,500 since October 2018 as eight major industry sectors posted growth, with five adding 2,000 or more jobs each. Arkansas’ thriving leisure and hospitality has seen the largest growth with 4,600 jobs adds over the past 12 months. Jobs in construction rose 3,800, followed by manufacturing with 3,700 jobs, and 2000 each in financial activities and educational and health services.

Mining and logging, which includes the state’s beleaguered oil and gas and timber industries, lost 400 positions over the past year and now has 5,700 workers on payroll. Information and Other services, which includes repair and maintenance, personal services and grant-writing, each lost 200 positions since October 2018.

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