March jobless rate rises to 4.2% in Fort Smith metro, unemployed number up 20%

by Michael Tilley ([email protected]) 400 views 

The March jobs report for the Fort Smith metro shows the first signs of COVID-19 on the regional economy, with the jobless rate rising to 4.2%, up from 3.8% in February and up from 3.5% in March 2019.

Fort Smith metro jobs declined by 83 in March compared to March 2019, a dip of 0.07%. The number of unemployed rose 20% in the year-over-year comparison, according to recent data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).

There were 114,076 jobs in the metro area in March, down from the 114,159 jobs in March 2019. The March number was above than the 113,940 jobs in February. The March employment also is down 11,350 jobs from peak employment of 125,426 in June 2006, a drop of 9%. The March numbers from the BLS are preliminary and subject to change.

Metro labor force numbers show 119,035 available workers in March, up from the 118,290 in March 2019, and above the 118,469 in February. The number of unemployed in March was an estimated 4,959, up 828 from the 4,131 in March 2019, and above the 4,529 in February.

The March unemployment rate in Northwest Arkansas was 3.3%, up from 3.1% in March 2019. Central Arkansas’ jobless rate was 4.4%, up from 3.1% in March 2019. The Jonesboro metro rate was 3.9%, up from 2.8% in March 2019.

Unemployment rates were higher in March than a year earlier in 253 of the 389 metropolitan areas, lower in 123 areas, and unchanged in 13 areas. A total of 45 areas had jobless rates of less than 3% and 11 areas had rates of at least 10%. Nonfarm payroll employment increased over the year in 21 metropolitan areas, decreased in 1 area, and was essentially unchanged in the remaining 367 areas. The national unemployment rate in March was 4.5%, up from 3.9% a year earlier.

In March, Kahului-Wailuku-Lahaina, Hawaii, and Urban Honolulu, Hawaii, had the lowest unemployment rates at 2.1% each, while El Centro, Calif., had the highest unemployment rate at 20.5%.

Jobs in the Trade, Transportation and Utilities sector, the region’s largest job sector, had an estimated 22,500 jobs, down from 22,700 in February, and down from 22,900 in March 2019. The sector is off the peak of 24,700 in December 2007.

Manufacturing jobs were an estimated 17,300 in March, down from 18,600 in February, and down from the 17,500 in March 2019. Manufacturing jobs reached a high of 31,200 jobs in June 1999, a loss of 13,900 jobs, or 44.5%, as of March.

Metro government jobs totaled 18,700 in March, up from 18,600 in February and up from 18,600 in March 2019. The sector first set an employment record of 18,900 in May 2017.

Education and Health Services jobs were an estimated 17,100 in March, down from the 17,300 in February, and down from the 17,300 in March 2019. The sector had record employment of 17,500 in June 2019.

The Professional and Business Services sector posted 12,000 jobs in March, up from 11,900 in February and below the 12,600 in March 2019. The sector hit an employment record of 13,600 in April 2018.

Tourism jobs – the leisure and hospitality sector – totaled 9,200 in March, unchanged from February and above the 9,100 in March 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 declined in the following three years. Following are the past seven years of annual average employment per month in the region.
2019: 114,505
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.

Following are the jobless rates among the four counties in the Fort Smith metro.
Crawford County
March 2020: 4%
March 2019: 4.4%

LeFlore County
March 2020: 4.6%
March 2019: 5.4%

Sebastian County
March 2020: 3.9%
March 2019: 4%

Sequoyah County
March 2020: 4.3%
March 2019: 4.8%