February jobless rate falls to 3.8% in Fort Smith metro, job growth basically flat

by Michael Tilley ([email protected]) 280 views 

The last jobless report for the Fort Smith metro that does not include the COVID-19 impact shows a decline in the jobless rate, but year-over-year job growth was almost flat, according to recent data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).

February’s jobless rate was 3.8%, down from 3.9% in January and below the 4.4% in February 2019.

There were 113,913 jobs in the metro area in February, just 86 jobs more than 113,827 jobs in February 2019. The February number was above the 113,022 jobs in January. The February employment also is down 11,513 jobs from peak employment of 125,426 in June 2006, a drop of 9.2%. The February numbers from the BLS are preliminary and subject to change.

Metro labor force numbers show 118,432 available workers in February, down from the 119,018 in February 2019, but above the 117,820 in January. The number of unemployed in February was an estimated 4,519, down from the 5,191 in February 2019, and below the 4,798 in January.

The February unemployment rate in Northwest Arkansas was 2.7%, down from 3.1% in February 2019. Central Arkansas’ jobless rate was 3.6%, down from 3.9% in February 2019. The Jonesboro metro rate was 3.2%, down from 3.6% in February 2019.

Unemployment rates were lower in February than a year earlier in 277 of the 389 metropolitan areas, higher in 80 areas, and unchanged in 32 areas, according to the BLS report. A total of 73 areas had jobless rates of less than 3% and 6 areas had rates of at least 10%. Nonfarm payroll employment increased over the year in 34 metropolitan areas and was essentially unchanged in the remaining 355 areas. The national unemployment rate in February was 3.8%, down from 4.1% a year earlier.

Jobs in the Trade, Transportation and Utilities sector, the region’s largest job sector, had an estimated 22,800 jobs, down from 23,000 in January, and down from 23,000 in February 2019. The sector is off the peak of 24,700 in December 2007.

Manufacturing jobs were an estimated 17,500 in February, unchanged from January, and down from the 17,700 in February 2019. Manufacturing jobs reached a high of 31,200 jobs in June 1999, a loss of 13,700 jobs, or 44%, as of February.

Metro government jobs totaled 18,600 in February, up from 18,200 in January and unchanged from February 2019. The sector first set an employment record of 18,900 in May 2017.

Education and Health Services jobs were an estimated 17,300 in February, up from the 17,200 in January, and unchanged from February 2019. The sector had record employment of 17,500 in June 2019.

The Professional and Business Services sector posted 11,800 jobs in February, up from 11,500 in January and below the 12,400 in February 2019. The sector hit an employment record of 13,600 in April 2018.

Tourism jobs – the leisure and hospitality sector – totaled 9,200 in February, up from 9,100 in January and above the 9,000 in February 2019. 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. The BLS has not yet posted an official monthly average for 2019.