A forum for information and analysis on the Arkansas economy

Metro and County Employment and Unemployment – October 2020

The latest data on local area employment and unemployment show that most regions of the state continue to recover from the economic downturn we experienced in March and April.  October unemployment rates were down in all of Arkansas’ metro areas (except Memphis) and were down in all 75 counties.  Payroll employment expanded in five of eight metro areas in October—in some cases significantly.  Regional differences remain, however, as both the severity of the downturn and the strength of recovery differ among local economies.

As shown in the table below, payroll employment expanded by over a full percentage point in Northwest Arkansas, Hot Springs, and Memphis. Employment also increased in Fort Smith and Jonesboro.  Little Rock was unchanged, while Pine Bluff and Texarkana were down compared to the previous month.  Nevertheless, since the employment trough of April 2020, all eight metro areas have seen employment gains, ranging from 2% in Pine Bluff to nearly 16% in Hot Springs.  In part, these differing rates of recovery reflect the magnitude of the initial downturn:  Hot Springs saw the largest job losses in the state from February to April, while Pine Bluff experienced the smallest percentage decline.

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, Current Employment Statistics (CES)

Compared to the cyclical peak month of February 2020, Jonesboro has recovered to the point of having a net gain in employment, while net declines remain in the other metro areas.  Little Rock, Memphis, and Pine Bluff continue to show net job losses of 4% or greater, with the others down between one and three percent.

Unemployment rates were down in seven of eight metro areas, the exception being Memphis, where the rate increased from 9.3% to 9.9%. In a month when the state and national unemployment rates declined by one full percentage point, we saw declines of one percent or more in Hot Springs, Jonesboro, Little Rock and Pine Bluff.  Texarkana and Fayetteville were down 0.9 percentage points.  The change in Fort Smith was smaller, but still indicated improvement.

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, Smoothed Seasonally Adjusted Estimates

At the county level, unemployment rates declined all 75 of Arkansas’ counties  in October.  Because the county data are not seasonally adjusted, a portion of these gains can be attributed to seasonal factors.  Nevertheless, the declines in all 75 counties exceeded the typical seasonal movement (at the statewide level) of approximately -0.25 percentage points.  The interactive map below summarizes October employment rates and shows the changes for each county from September to October.

A general pattern is evident:  Unemployment rates have fallen below 5% in many counties in the north and west of the state, while the highest unemployment rates are in the south and east.  Madison and Newton Counties had the lowest rates in the state (3.9%), while the highest rates were in Chicot County (10.9%), Ashley County (9.2%), and Phillips County (8.8%).

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Arkansas Employment and Unemployment – October 2020

The latest unemployment data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics and Arkansas Department of Workforce Services showed a full percentage point decline in Arkansas’ unemployment rate, down from 7.2% (revised) in September to 6.2% in October.

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics

The decline in October resumes a downward trend that appeared to have stalled in August and September. However, weekly data on unemployment insurance claims suggest that although the trend toward lower unemployment had slowed in late summer, it has continued.  In that respect, the leveling-off in the official unemployment rate in August and September appears to be the anomalous reading.

Source: U.S. Department of Labor

The October decline in the unemployment rate was driven by a sharp decline in the number of unemployed, down more than 14,000 to 83,203.  The number of employed increased by 1,747.  Summing these two changes, the labor force was down by 12,370 for the month.  Statistics on the labor force have been unusually volatile this year, as labor market “churning” has complicated efforts to measure unemployment at any given point in time.  Overall, the labor force is down by approximately 36,000 since February, but has come back from a February-to-July decline of more than 62,000.

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, Local Area Unemployment Statistics (LAUS)

In terms of labor force participation rates, Arkansas stood at 56.5% in October, down 1.7 percentage points since February.  Over the same period, the U.S. participation rate declined by 2.6% to 61.7%.

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics

Payroll Employment
Nonfarm payroll employment increased by 9,700 in October (seasonally adjusted), an increase of 0.8%.  Compared to February, Arkansas payroll employment was down by 45,700, or 3.6%.  The net change for the U.S. over the same period was a decline of 6.6%.

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, Current Employment Statistics (CES)

As shown in the table below, the October employment increases were distributed across most sectors.  There were declines in Government, Wholesale Trade, Mining & Logging, and Information Services, but every other major sector saw employment gains.  Professional and Business Services was up by 2,800 jobs, Leisure and Hospitality Services was up 1,700, and Construction employment was up by 1,000.  Employment in Retail Trade continues to expand:  it was up 3,700 in October, bringing the cumulative change since February to a total net increase of 7,200 jobs.  Employment in Construction and Transportation & Utilities have also moved into positive growth territory since February.

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, Current Employment Statistics (CES)

After declining by 118,800 in March and April, payroll employment has gained back about 73,000 jobs, with a net cumulative decline between February and September of 45,700.

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Seasonally adjusted data for Arkansas nonfarm payroll employment, reported in a format consistent with the monthly news release from the Arkansas Division of Workforce Services, can be found here: Table-Seasonally Adjusted NFPE. 

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2020 Forecast Conference – November 12, 2020

Little Rock Regional Economic Briefing – 2020

Thanks to all the participants and presenters at this years Regional Economic Briefing on November 12.

Use the links below to download copies of the presentation slides.

 


Little Rock Regional Economic Briefing – 2020

The Arkansas Economic Development Institute, based at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock, and the Little Rock Branch of the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis will host the Little Rock Regional Economic Briefing Thursday, November 12.

The event will take place virtually this year, from 8-10 a.m. on November 12. The event is free and open to the public, but registration is required at this online link.

Economists will speak on the economic conditions and outlook for the region and the nation. The briefing will be of particular interest to business leaders, academics, and community development practitioners.

The speakers include:

  • Kevin Kliesen, St. Louis Fed research officer and business economist, who will discuss national economic conditions
  • Carlos Silva, Arkansas Economic Development Institute regional economist, who will give the Little Rock metro report
  • Michael Pakko, Arkansas Economic Development Institute chief economist and state economic forecaster, who will talk about the Arkansas economic outlook

“The Little Rock Regional Economic Briefing will include perspectives on the national, state, and regional economies,” Pakko said. “In these very unusual times, the pandemic and efforts to curtail its spread have a profound influence on the economic outlook, and we’ll be focusing in particular on how our economy has fared thus far, and what that portends for the forecast.”

The program also includes a welcome from Robert Hopkins, senior vice president and regional executive of the Little Rock Branch, and a question-and-answer session following the presentations.

For more information, contact Julie Kerr at julie.a.kerr@stls.frb.org or 501-324-8296.

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Arkansas Employment and Unemployment – September 2020

After recovering through the months of May, June and July, continued improvement Arkansas labor markets has slowed.  The unemployment rate ticked slightly lower in September, declining 0.1 percentage point to 7.3%.  However, there has been no statistically significant change in Arkansas’ unemployment rate since July.  The U.S. unemployment rate which peaked at 14.7% in April, fell by half a percentage point in September, declining from 8.4% to 7.9%.

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics

As shown in the breakdown below, the number of unemployed has hovered just below 100,000 for three months now, falling slightly from 99,517 in August to 97,191 in September. The number of employed also declined in September (-5,391), but not nearly enough to offset the gain from the previous month (+31,032, revised).  Similarly, the labor force contracted slightly in September after surging upward in August.  The labor force data have been particularly volatile, suggesting large movements in and out of the labor force.  Moreover, problems defining labor force status in the presence of temporary furloughs and layoffs has complicated the interpretation of the labor force participation data.

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, Local Area Unemployment Statistics (LAUS)

Payroll Employment
Without seasonal adjustment, nonfarm payroll employment increased by 13,200 in September. However, the increase is largely attributable to seasonal increases in educational services in both the private and public sectors.  After seasonal adjustment, private education services were down 800 jobs and total government employment was down by 3,700.  The seasonally adjusted declines indicate that back-to-school employment increases are smaller this year than typically the case for September.

Seasonally adjusted, nonfarm payrolls declined 1,700.  As shown in the third column of the table below, increases in Manufacturing, Education and Health Services, and Leisure and Hospitality Services were noteworthy for continuing the recovery from COVID-related shutdowns earlier in the year.  The increase in manufacturing employment is a welcome improvement from a sector that had remained near its April trough.  The gain in Education and Health Services as entirely attributable to higher employment in Health Care and Social Assistance.  Gains in Leisure and Hospitality show ongoing improvement, but with employment remaining more than 17,000 below the pre-COVID peak.

The cumulative changes shown in the fourth column of the table show that the Wholesale Trade, Retail Trade, and Transportation & Utilities sectors have all moved into positive territory, showing net gains relative to February.  While several sectors continue to operate below capacity and with employment sharply down from earlier in the year, other sectors are showing increasing employment.  In the case of the trade and transportation sectors, it appears that efforts to address logistics and supply-chain problems during the economic shut-down has generated job growth during the period of recovery.

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, Current Employment Statistics (CES)

The trends in payroll employment for Arkansas and the U.S. remain favorable, despite the one-month decline in the Arkansas data for September.  The pace of employment growth nationwide has slowed in recent months, as has growth in Arkansas.  There is more month-to-month variability in state-level employment growth, so it is important to bear in mind that one month of data rarely indicates a change in trend; September’s modest down-tick doesn’t necessarily indicate a stalling of job growth, but rather a slowing of the pace of economic recovery.

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, Current Employment Statistics (CES)

Overall, the trends continue to show improvement in both state and national labor markets.  But the pace of the improvement has slowed somewhat as we move into the fall months.

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Seasonally adjusted data for Arkansas nonfarm payroll employment, reported in a format consistent with the monthly news release from the Arkansas Division of Workforce Services, can be found here: Table-Seasonally Adjusted NFPE. 

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Metro Area Employment and Unemployment – August 2020

The establishment survey for August showed payroll employment higher in all eight metro areas covering parts of Arkansas.  The household survey, on the other hand, showed higher unemployment for six of the eight.

First, the payroll data:  Statewide nonfarm payroll employment rose by 1.2% in August, outpacing U.S. growth of 1.0%.  Among Arkansas metro areas, all experienced an expansion of employment but only Texarkana matched the statewide growth rate.  Employment in Hot Springs and Fort Smith roughly matched the U.S. growth rate, while each of the other metro areas lagged behind.  The implication is that employment in non-metropolitan areas contributed to the statewide growth rate.

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, Current Employment Statistics (CES)

The monthly employment increases represented continuing recovery from the pandemic recession, but employment in most areas of the state continue to be lower than year-ago levels.  The exception is Jonesboro, where employment was 0.3% above August 2019.  Outside Jonesboro, year-over-year growth rates ranged from -5.9% in Memphis to -1.5% in Texarkana.  Looking more directly at the short-term fluctuations surrounding the February-to-April employment downturn, all eight metro areas have rebounded considerably, but all eight continue to show net employment declines since February.

Unemployment Rates:
The statewide employment report had shown an increase in the Arkansas unemployment rate in August.  The metro area report shows that unemployment in six of the state’s eight metro areas also ticked higher.  The exceptions were Fort Smith and Texarkana, each of which declined from July to August.

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, Smoothed Seasonally Adjusted Metropolitan Area Estimates

As with the payroll data, the unemployment statistics seem to suggest that non-metro parts of the state showed relative improvement in August.  As documented in the county map below, unemployment rates declined in 62 of Arkansas’ 75 counties, were unchanged in 3, and increased in only 10 counties across the state.  Counties that showed increases included Garland, Jefferson, Lincoln, Madison, Pulaski, and Washington — each of which is part of a metropolitan area.

The data are subject to revision, but the information for August suggests that Arkansas metro areas are recovering slowly, but are still being held back by the limited resurgence of service sector employment.  Nonmetropolitan areas, being less dependent on service-providing industries, appear to be experiencing somewhat more robust recoveries — at least in some parts of the state.

The Arkansas Delta region seems to be an exception.  The map below shows the cumulative changes in unemployment by county from February through April.  In addition to the metropolitan counties that show the largest sustained increases, counties in the eastern and southern areas of the state show relatively large increases in unemployment as well. The unemployment rate in Mississippi County is up 4.8 percentage points, Lafayette County is up 4.0, Union and Desha Counties both up 3.9, and St. Francis and Chicot Counties are both up 3.8 percentage points.

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Arkansas Personal Income – 2020:Q2

Today’s report from the Bureau of Economic Analysis showed that total personal income increased by 7.0% in Arkansas in the second quarter of 2020 – an annualized growth rate of 31.3%. Arkansas’ growth rate was slightly slower than the 34.2% pace recorded for the United States and ranked #31 among the 50 states.  Growth rates ranged from a low of 15.8% in Tennessee to 76.3% in Massachusetts.

Source: Bureau of Economic Analysis

The increases in personal income were driven entirely by Personal Current Transfer Receipts, with non-transfer income declining in all 50 states.  In Arkansas, non-transfer income declined by 6.5% (an annualized rate of 23.4%), while transfer receipts increased by 51% (a 419% annual rate).  Arkansas declines in wages and salaries (and supplements) were smaller than the U.S. average, while Proprietors’ Income and Dividends, Interest & Rent contracted more sharply than in the national statistics.

Source: Bureau of Economic Analysis

The increase in total personal income was somewhat less than projected in recent forecasts, due to a larger decline in non-transfer income and a smaller increase in transfer payments than had been expected.

Looking at a breakdown of earnings declines by industry, we see that Arkansas endured smaller declines than the U.S. in several industries that were directly affected by COVID-19 shutdowns, including Retail Trade, Health Care, Accommodation and Food Service, as well as Art, Entertainment & Recreation.  The most significant sector of weakness for Arkansas was Farm Income, which fell to below zero for the quarter.

Source: Bureau of Economic Analysis

Revisions to Earlier Data
The statistics released this morning also included revised statistics for 2013:Q1 through 2020:Q1.  The revisions were generally small, shifting Arkansas income levels slightly higher for 2015 through 2017, and slightly lower during 2019.

Source: Bureau of Economic Analysis

The effect of revisions on income growth rates was generally positive for 2015 and 2016, but resulted in slower reported growth for more recent periods.  Through the first quarter of 2020, four-quarter growth was previously reported to be 3.4%.  After revisions it is estimated to have been 3.2%.

Source: Bureau of Economic Analysis

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Arkansas Employment and Unemployment – August 2020

The state-level employment report for August had mixed news for Arkansas.  The headline was an unexpected increase in the unemployment rate, from 7.1% to 7.4%.  The U.S. unemployment rate had been reported as declining from 10.2% to 8.4% in August, and Arkansas was one of only four states to see a nominal increase for the month (although Arkansas’ increase was not statistically significant).  The states that had the largest declines in unemployment tended to be those with relatively high rates, while those with the lowest rates saw smaller declines or increases.  Even after the slight uptick in August, Arkansas’ unemployment rate remained a full percentage point lower than the national average.

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics

Under the current circumstances, an increase in unemployment is not unambiguously bad news.  As shown in the figures below, the rise in the unemployment rate was primarily attributable to an increase in the number of unemployed, up 6,456 to nearly 100,000.  But the number of employed also increased by nearly 32,000, driving an increase in labor force participation of 38,219.  As employment opportunities re-emerge after labor market weakness, it is often the case that workers who had previously dropped out of the labor market resume their search for employment, temporarily boosting the unemployment rate.  The sharp increase in labor force participation suggests this might be a factor in Arkansas unemployment uptick.

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, Local Area Unemployment Statistics (LAUS)

Payroll Employment
Arkansas Nonfarm payroll employment increased by 14,900 in August (seasonally adjusted), an increase of 1.2%.  To put that number into context, average annual employment growth in 2017, 2018 and 2019 was 14,400.  The increase in August continues a recovery that began in May:  After falling 9.3% from February through April, Arkansas employment is now down only 4.1% compared to February.  Although employment in Arkansas did not fall as sharply as the nationwide average, Arkansas’ recovery parallels that of the nation. The February-April decline for the U.S. was 14.6%, and the latest data show national employment still down 7.6% from the February peak.

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, Current Employment Statistics (CES)

The table below shows payroll employment changes by major sector.  In terms of numbers of jobs, the February-April decline amounted to nearly 120,000, with significant losses in service-providing sectors, particularly Leisure & Hospitality, Education & Health, Retail Trade, and Professional & Business Services.  Each of those sectors has bounced back considerably.  In August, employment was up sharply in Retail Trade and Professional & Business Services – particularly in the category of Administrative & Support Services.  In the case of Retail, statewide employment is now 3,600 higher than in February.  On the other hand, employment in Manufacturing remains weak.  It was up by 600 jobs in August, but remains 16,300 lower than in February.

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, Current Employment Statistics (CES)

The figures below illustrate how sectors that were hardest-hit by pandemic-related shutdowns have fared relative to the national totals. All series are normalized to February 2020 = 100, so percentage deviations from that baseline can be read directly from the charts.  So, for example, national employment in Retail Trade initially declined by approximately 15% from February to March, while Arkansas employment in that sector fell by about 8%.  The fact that employment in Arkansas retail sector is now higher than pre-pandemic levels is not a feature in the U.S. data.

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, Current Employment Statistics (CES)

Leisure and Hospitality Services suffered smaller employment declines in Arkansas, but have recovered with a trajectory similar to the national data.

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, Current Employment Statistics (CES)

In Education and Health Services, and in Manufacturing, the magnitude of employment declines in Arkansas matched the national average.  While both sectors have seen some limited recovery since April, Manufacturing employment in Arkansas remains well-below re-pandemic levels.

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, Current Employment Statistics (CES)

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, Current Employment Statistics (CES)

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Seasonally adjusted data for Arkansas nonfarm payroll employment, reported in a format consistent with the monthly news release from the Arkansas Division of Workforce Services, can be found here: Table-Seasonally Adjusted NFPE. 

 

 

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Metro Area Employment and Unemployment – July 2020

The July report on metro area employment and unemployment that came out this morning showed continued improvement in Arkansas labor markets following the pandemic-related downturn in March and April.

Payroll employment increased from June to July in six of Arkansas’ metro areas, with Little Rock unchanged and Pine Bluff down 1.3%.  All eight metro areas have shown employment increases since the April trough, with three-month increases ranging from 2.6% in Pine Bluff to 12.8% in Hot Springs.  Nevertheless, employment in all eight metro areas remains well below cyclical peaks in February and below year-ago levels.

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, Current Employment Statistics (CES)

Unemployment rates were down in all metro areas except Memphis, where the unemployment rate increased from 11.3% to 12.7%.  Unemployment in Northwest Arkansas declined to 5.4%.  At 6.4% Jonesboro was the only other metro area with an unemployment rate lower than the statewide average of 7.1%.

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, Seasonally Adjusted Metropolitan Area Estimates

The map below displays a snapshot of unemployment rates by county for July, along with the change from May (not seasonally adjusted data).  Unemployment rates declined from June to July in all 75 of Arkansas’ counties. The uniformity of the declines is all the more remarkable given that seasonal patterns typically add about two-tenths of a percentage point to unemployment rate changes between June and July.  The lowest unemployment rates in the state continue to be in Madison County (4.7%) and Arkansas County (5.0%)  Unemployment rates remain in the double-digits for several counties in the south and east regions of the state, with the highest rates in Chicot County (12.9%) and Mississippi County (11.9%)

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Unemployment Insurance Claims – Update

The latest weekly data on unemployment insurance claims shows a significant decline in Arkansas jobless claims over the past three weeks.   During the week ending August 22, the preliminary estimate for new claims in Arkansas was 5,225, down from a weekly average of 13,785 during the month of July. Continuing claims for unemployment have also dropped sharply.  Also referred to as “insured unemployment,” continuing claims fell from over 100,000 in early July to 44,500 in the week ended August 15.

Source: U.S. Department of Labor

On the national level, unemployment insurance claims have also been dropping, but not as abruptly as the declines in Arkansas.  Just over one million new unemployment claims were filed in the week ending August 22, down from an average of 1,333,000 in the previous month.  Continuing claims have steadily declined, falling from 17 million in mid-July to 14.5 million for the week ending August 15.  From the week ending July 11 through the week ending August 15, U.S. insured unemployment declined by 10%, compared to the 55% decline in Arkansas.

Source: U.S. Department of Labor

Expressing continuing claims as a percentage of the insured labor force, the “insured unemployment rate” can be used to compare state and national numbers directly.  Arkansas’ rate has fallen sharply over the most recent three weeks, down from 7.9% to 4.4% in the week ending August 8.  Over the same period, the U.S. rate declined from 11.6% to 10.1%.  In the week ending August 15, the U.S. insured unemployment rate dropped to just below 10%.

Source: U.S. Department of Labor

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Arkansas Employment and Unemployment – July 2020

Arkansas labor market continued to recover in July from the pandemic-related job-losses of March and April; however, the pace of the rebound slowed.  Arkansas’ unemployment rate declined by one full percentage point from 8.1% (revised) in June to 7.1% in July.  The U.S. unemployment rate declined by 0.9% from 11.1% to 10.2%.

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics

The decline in Arkansas’ unemployment rate reflected a drop of 14,272 in the number of unemployed and an increase of 4,862 in the number of employed.  As a result, the labor force declined by 9,410, and is now down approximately 63,000 from February (-4.6%).

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, Local Area Unemployment Statistics (LAUS)

Payroll Employment
Nonfarm payroll employment growth slowed significantly in July.  After recovering 49,100 jobs in May and June (including an upward revision of 3,100 jobs in June), payroll employment was up only 1,600 jobs in July (seasonally adjusted data).  As shown in the table below, Goods producing sectors lost jobs in July with Construction down 400 and Manufacturing down 1,500.  Service-providing sectors generally added jobs, particularly in the hard-hit sectors of Education & Health Services and Leisure & Hospitality Services.  Government employment was down 2,100 jobs, with the losses exclusively in on the local government level.  It is typical to see declines in local government employment during the summer school recess, but the July’s decline in the seasonally-adjusted measure indicates declines that go beyond the ordinary seasonal fluctuations.

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, Current Employment Statistics (CES)

Compared to July 2019, total payroll employment was down 60,500, a decline of 4.7%.  The year over year job-losses are concentrated in Manufacturing and Leisure & Hospitality Services, with notable declined in Education & Health Services and Government.

Relative to the pre-COVID-19 employment peak in February, payroll employment was down 68,100 jobs, or 5.3% in July. By comparison, total U.S. nonfarm payroll employment was down 8.4% from its February peak.

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, Current Employment Statistics (CES)

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Seasonally adjusted data for Arkansas nonfarm payroll employment, reported in a format consistent with the monthly news release from the Arkansas Division of Workforce Services, can be found here: Table-Seasonally Adjusted NFPE. 

 

 

 

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Special Reports: Impact of Covid-19 on the Arkansas Economy

Arkansas Consumer Spending During the Pandemic
Sales tax data for Arkansas indicate robust consumer spending in the midst of the pandemic. In this article, we break down available data by county and by sector to seek greater insight into the phenomenon.
Read more…

Forecast Update (July)
“Incoming data have continued to show a more rapid recovery from the COVID-19 shutdowns than previously expected.”
Read more…

Forecast Update (June)
Information since May has suggested that Arkansas has not been as severely impacted as other parts of the country, and that the sharp declines in national employment have abated.
Read more…

Forecast Update (May)
“The economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic continues to be more rapid and more severe than initially expected… In this updated report we present new projections for the Arkansas economy.”
Read more…

Forecast Update (April)
“In this note we update that forecast with new estimates of the magnitude of the downturn. We also update and extend our previous guidance on how the forecast is likely to impact sales tax receipts of local governments.”
Read more …

Implications for Local Government Sales Tax Collections
“In this note, we focus on consumer spending and the outlook for sales tax collections by county and municipal governments.” Read more…

Arkansas Economic Outlook (March)
“It appears that a dramatic downturn in economic activity over the remainder of 2020 is unavoidable for the nation and for Arkansas.”  Read more…

 

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