Jobless rate declines in all Arkansas metro areas; problem noted with labor force numbers

by Michael Tilley ([email protected]) 722 views 

Two of the eight metro areas within or including parts of Arkansas had jobless rates below 2% in December, and only two metros (central Arkansas and Hot Springs) have employment still below March 2020, which was the month before broad COVID-19 disruptions emerged.

All eight of the metro areas posted jobless rate declines in December compared with December 2020, with Northwest Arkansas at 1.6% and Jonesboro at 1.9% posting the lowest rates, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). The December report is preliminary and subject to revisions.

Arkansas’ three largest metro regions – areas with most of the workforce in the state – accounted for most of the state’s 19,083 year-over-year job gains in December.

Central Arkansas – Little Rock, North Little Rock and Conway – had 340,428 employed in December, up 2,292 jobs, from the 338,136 in December 2020. The region’s jobless rate was 2.5% in December, below the 5% in December 2020.

Northwest Arkansas, the state’s second-largest metro area, had an estimated 293,976 jobs in December, up 12,755 jobs from the 281,221 in December 2020. The region’s jobless rate was 1.6% in December, below 3.5% in December 2020.

The Fort Smith metro, Arkansas’ third-largest metro, had an estimated 116,254 jobs in December, up 2,654 jobs from 113,600 in December 2020. The region’s jobless rate was 2.2% in December, below the 4.6% in December 2020. Regional employment remains well below the peak of 124,098 in June 2006.

The central Arkansas employment is below the 344,136 in March 2020. Hot Springs metro employment of 38,675 is also below the 40,163 in March 2020. Hot Springs was also the only Arkansas metro to post a jobs decline in December (38,675) compared with December 2020 (39,201).

LABOR FORCE PARTICIPATION
Michael Pakko, chief economist and state economic forecaster at the Institute for Economic Advancement at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock, said recent labor data revisions by the BLS indicate that the state’s labor force is still challenged.

“While the number of unemployed represent a smaller proportion of the labor force than ever before, the size of the labor force itself has significantly contracted,” Pakko said of the revised data. “The previously-published data indicated a net decline of approximately 1.4% of the population, while the revised data show a decline of more than 2%.”

Of the eight metro areas, five (Fort Smith, Hot Springs, central Arkansas, Memphis/West Memphis, and Pine Bluff) had a lower labor force in December compared with December 2020.

Pakko said the employment-population ratio is considered by some a “preferable alternative” to the jobless rate because it shows the potential of employment in an area.

“Arkansas still has a long way to recover in order to reach an employment-population ratio near pre-pandemic levels – particularly in the revised data. Starting from around 56.5% in late 2019 and early 2020, the employment population ratio has dropped to 54.4% by the end of 2021,” Pakko wrote.

NATIONAL NUMBERS
Unemployment rates were lower in December than a year earlier in 375 of the 389 metropolitan
areas, higher in 13 areas and unchanged in 1 area. A total of 141 areas had jobless rates of less than 3% and one area had a rate of at least 10%. Nonfarm payroll employment increased over the year in 108 metropolitan areas and was essentially unchanged in 281 areas. The national unemployment rate in December was 3.7%, not seasonally adjusted, down from 6.5% a year earlier.

In December, Elkhart-Goshen, Ind., had the lowest unemployment rate at 0.9%, closely followed by Bloomington, Ind., and Columbus, Ind., at 1% each. El Centro, Calif., had the highest rate at 14.7%. A total of 245 areas had December jobless rates below the U.S. rate of 3.7%, 135 areas had rates above it, and nine areas had rates equal to that of the nation.

METRO JOBS DATA
Following are labor market data for the eight metro areas.
• Northwest Arkansas
Labor force
December 2021: 298,830
December 2020: 291,307

Employment
December 2021: 293,976
December 2020: 281,221
March 2020 (pre-pandemic): 279,302

Unemployed
December 2021: 4,854
December 2020: 10,086

Jobless rate
December 2021: 1.6%
December 2020: 3.5%

• Fort Smith metro (Arkansas-Oklahoma)
Labor force
December 2021: 118,851
December 2020: 119,095

Employment
December 2021: 116,254
December 2020: 113,600
March 2020 (pre-pandemic): 112,997

Unemployed
December 2021: 2,597
December 2020: 5,495

Jobless rate
December 2021: 2.2%
December 2020: 4.6%

• Hot Springs
Labor force
December 2021: 39,876
December 2020: 41,671

Employment
December 2021: 38,675
December 2020: 39,201
March 2020 (pre-pandemic): 40,163

Unemployed
December 2021: 1,201
December 2020: 2,470

Jobless rate
December 2021: 3%
December 2020: 5.9%

• Jonesboro
Labor force
December 2021: 66,622
December 2020: 66,493

Employment
December 2021: 65,351
December 2020: 63,868
March 2020 (pre-pandemic): 264,360

Unemployed
December 2021: 1,271
December 2020: 2,625

Jobless rate
December 2021: 1.9%
December 2020: 3.9%

• Central Arkansas
Labor force
December 2021: 349,105
December 2020: 355,832

Employment
December 2021: 340,428
December 2020: 338,136
March 2020 (pre-pandemic): 344,136

Unemployed
December 2021: 8,677
December 2020: 17,696

Jobless rate
December 2021: 2.5%
December 2020: 5%

• Memphis/West Memphis
Labor force
December 2021: 651,646
December 2020: 651,858

Employment
December 2021: 625,187
December 2020: 606,594
March 2020 (pre-pandemic): 604,469

Unemployed
December 2021: 26,459
December 2020: 45,264

Jobless rate
December 2021: 3.9%
December 2020: 6.6%

• Pine Bluff
Labor force
December 2021: 34,195
December 2020: 34,939

Employment
December 2021: 32,856
December 2020: 32,637
March 2020 (pre-pandemic): 32,348

Unemployed
December 2021: 1,339
December 2020: 2,302

Jobless rate
December 2021: 3.9%
December 2020: 6.6%

• Texarkana (Arkansas-Texas)
Labor force
December 2021: 64,154
December 2020: 64,045

Employment
December 2021: 61,536
December 2020: 60,285

Unemployed
December 2021: 2,618
December 2020: 3,760

Jobless rate
December 2021: 4.1%
December 2020: 5.9%