Arkansas’ December jobless rate hits historic low despite employment decline

by Michael Tilley ([email protected]) 674 views 

With Arkansas’ jobless rate reaching a record low despite fewer people employed compared to the same month in 2020, December’s jobs report is an example that the jobless rate is not always a good indicator of economic health.

The state’s jobless rate fell to a record low 3.1% in December, down from 3.4% in November and below the 4.9% in December 2020. But there were fewer Arkansans employed in December compared to December 2020, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics report posted Tuesday (Jan. 25). The December numbers are preliminary and subject to revision.

The number of employed in Arkansas during December was an estimated 1,310,494 down 1,643 jobs compared with December 2020, but above the 1,307,847 in November.

Also declining was the state’s labor force, which is the number of people eligible to work. The December tally was 1,353,108 in December, 26,205 people fewer than the 1,379,312 in December 2020, and even below the 1,354,206 in November. Arkansans without jobs in December totaled 42,609, down from 46,359 in November, and well below the 67,171 in December 2020.

Arkansas’ labor force participation rate was 56.9% in December, below the 58.3% in December 2020, and below 57% for the first time in 2021. November’s participation rate was revised from 56.9% to 57%.

The biggest year-over-year sector gains were in Professional and Business Services (8,600 more jobs), and Manufacturing (up 5,800 jobs). Of the large employment sectors, those with job losses were in Construction, which had 1,900 fewer jobs year over year, and Government with 2,000 fewer jobs.

Gov. Asa Hutchinson blamed the surging Omicron variant of COVID-19 on the declines in jobs and labor force in December.

“You dig into the numbers and you see that we grew in manufacturing, we grew in hospitality numbers, and in a number of different sectors, but those were offset by losing workers in the healthcare industry and in education. And that is a concern to us. We want to look deeper into that. But it’s a reminder of the strain that our workforce sees and feels during this pandemic,” he said.

The Education and Health Services sector had an estimated 900 fewer employed in December than November.

Unemployment rates were lower in December in 42 states and stable in 8 states. Forty-eight states had jobless rate decreases from a year earlier and two states were little changed. The national unemployment rate, 3.9%, declined by 0.3 percentage point over the month and was 2.8 points lower than in December 2020.

Nebraska had the lowest jobless rate in December at 1.7%, followed by Utah at 1.9%. The rates in the following 12 states set new series lows (all state series begin in 1976): Arkansas (3.1%), Georgia (2.6%), Idaho (2.4%), Indiana (2.7%), Kentucky (3.9%), Mississippi (4.5%), Montana (2.5%), Nebraska (1.7%), Oklahoma (2.3%), Utah (1.9%), West Virginia (3.7%), and Wisconsin (2.8%).

California and Nevada had the highest unemployment rates at 6.5% and 6.4%, respectively. In total, 17 states had unemployment rates higher than the U.S. rate of 3.9%, 16 states had lower rates, and 17 states had rates that were not appreciably different from that of the nation.

Jobs in the Trade, Transportation, and Utilities sector – the state’s largest job category – reached 257,000 in December, up from 256,800 in November and above the 253,700 in December 2020. The December number marks a record for the sector.

The Government sector employed 203,200 in December, down from the 203,400 in November and below the 205,200 in December 2020. Sector employment hit a peak of 224,100 in May 2010.

The Education and Health Services sector employed 188,700 in December, down from 189,600 in November and above the 187,900 in December 2020. February 2020 set a record for sector employment at 195,300.

Arkansas’ manufacturing sector had 162,500 jobs, just below the 161,800 in November and up from the 156,700 jobs in December 2020. Manufacturing, once the state’s largest jobs sector, posted record employment of 247,600 in July 1995.

Professional and Business Services employed 151,100 in December, up from 150,700 in November and well above the 142,500 December 2020. The December number marks a record for the sector.

The state’s Leisure and Hospitality (tourism) sector had 115,600 jobs in December, up from 114,400 in November and above the 111,600 in December 2020. The sector first reached an employment record of 122,900 in December 2019.

The Financial Activities sector had 67,700 jobs in December, down from 67,900 in November and up from the 63,600 in December 2020. The November jobs number marked a new record employment for the sector.

The Construction sector had 52,500 jobs in December, up from 52,200 in November and below the 54,400 in December 2020. The sector reached record employment of 55,200 in January 2020.