Fort Smith metro jobless rate rises to 3.8% in December, jobless number up 40%

by Talk Business & Politics staff ([email protected]) 346 views 

The Fort Smith metro ended 2023 with a slight uptick in jobs, but the number of unemployed in the region jumped 40% between December 2022 and December 2023, according to figures from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).

December’s BLS report showed 115,696 jobs in the Fort Smith metro, up 0.8% compared with 114,755 in December 2022. The region’s jobless rate rose from 3.3% in December 2022 to 3.8% in December 2023. The December figures are preliminary and subject to revision.

A factor in the jobless rate was the 40% increase in the number of jobless. The metro had an estimated 4,522 unemployed in December, well above the 3,229 in December 2022.

The labor force – those eligible to work – in the Fort Smith metro in December was 120,218, up 1.9% compared with 117,984 in December 2022.

Peak employment in the Fort Smith metro was reached in June 2008 with 123,478 jobs, which was prior to Whirlpool closing its large Fort Smith refrigerator manufacturing plant in June 2012. The closure resulted in about 1,000 lost jobs when the plant closed. However, Whirlpool, which employed more than 4,500 at the Fort Smith plant in 2006, moved production out of the plant for several years prior to the closing. A 2012 study by the University of Arkansas at Little Rock estimated that Whirlpool’s closure would result in a total of 6,610 jobs lost in the metro.

Following are job numbers in key Fort Smith metro sectors.
• Trade, Transportation, Utilities
December 2023: 25,200
December 2022: 25,200
(The 25,200 employment is a record for the sector.)

• Education & Health Services
December 2023: 18,700
December 2022: 17,800
(The December 2023 employment is a record for the sector.)

• Manufacturing
December 2023: 18,500
December 2022: 18,600
(The sector reached peak employment of 31,200 in June 1999.)

• Government
December 2023: 18,500
December 2022: 18,200
(Record employment in the sector of 18,900 was first reached in May 2017.)

• Professional & Business Services
December 2023: 11,100
December 2022: 12,000
(Record employment in the sector of 13,600 was first reached in August 2007.)

• Leisure & Hospitality (tourism)
December 2023: 9,900
December 2022: 9,700
(The sector reached peak employment of 10,700 in August 2023.)

• Construction (includes mining and logging)
December 2023: 5,800
December 2022: 5,300
(The sector reached peak employment of 8,700 in August 2008 when the companies in the region helped support natural gas exploration and drilling activity in the Fayetteville Shale Play.)

December unemployment rates were higher than a year earlier in 230 of the 389 metro areas, lower in 128 areas, and unchanged in 31 areas, according to the BLS. A total of 9 areas had jobless rates of less than 2% and 10 areas had rates of at least 8%.

Nonfarm payroll employment increased over the year in 61 metropolitan areas and was essentially unchanged in 328 areas. The national unemployment rate in December was 3.5%, up from 3.3% a year earlier.

Burlington-South Burlington, Vt., had the lowest December unemployment rate at 1.6%. The next lowest rates were in Fargo, N.D.-Minn., and Manhattan, Kan., at 1.7% each. El Centro, Calif., had the highest rate at 18.3%. A total of 217 areas had December jobless rates below the U.S. rate of 3.5%, 155 areas had rates above it, and 17 areas had rates equal to that of the nation.