Skip to content

Arkansas Employment and Unemployment – June 2024

The June report on state-level employment and unemployment was unambiguous: Arkansas labor markets continue to show strength. Unemployment was down, with employment and labor force participation rising.

Arkansas unemployment rate declined by 0.1 percentage points in June, falling to 3.3%. If calculated with more precision the rate declined by only .04 percentage points, with the 0.1 pp measured to the nearest tenth. Nevertheless, the slight decline in Arkansas along with an increase in the U.S. rate for June means that Arkansas’ unemployment rate is now statistically significantly lower than the national average.

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics

The underlying data from the household survey were all strong. The number of unemployed declined by 422, bringing the cumulative decline over the first half of 2024 to 4,221. The number of employed rose sharply, up 5,628. Household employment growth has accelerated in the second quarter of 2024, and over the first six months of the year employment has increased by 15,843. The increase in employment in June drove another increase in the labor force, up 5,206 for the month.

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

The acceleration in household employment and labor force growth have driven Arkansas’ labor force participation rate up by 0.3 percentage points over the past three months. It now stands at 57.7%, nearly equal to the rate at the beginning of 2020.

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics

Payroll Employment
Nonfarm payroll employment grew by 8,700 jobs in June, an increase of 0.6% (seasonally adjusted). The increase was among the highest percentage increases in the nation (essentially tied with New Hampshire and New Mexico). Increases were particularly prominent in Professional & Business Services and Education & Health Services (particularly health care). Gains were also registered in Construction, Nondurables Manufacturing, and many service-providing sectors. Without seasonal adjustment, Leisure & Hospitality services increased for the month, but after accounting for seasonality, the data indicate less growth than is typically the case during June.

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

With the June increases, employment is up by 26,800 over the past twelve months–a percentage increase of 2.0%. Employment growth for the U.S. has been 1.7% over the same period.

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

# # #

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.

Arkansas Retail Sales – 2024:Q1

The AEDI index of Arkansas retail sales declined by 0.7% in the first quarter of 2024, while the Census Bureau’s Retail Trade and Food Services for the U.S. declined by 0.2%. Compared to a year earlier, the Arkansas measure is up by 1.2%, compared to an increase of 1.4% in the U.S. measure.

Sources: Arkansas Department of Finance & Administration, Arkansas Economic Development Institute, U.S. Census Bureau

First quarter sales in Arkansas were impacted by severe cold and ice in January. Nearly every retail sector showed a distinct decline in the monthly data. For example, the figure below shows sales for Furniture and Home Furnishing stores, where the decline in January 2024 is nearly as distinct as for the snowstorm of February 2021 (albeit without the sharp increase in the following month).

Sources: Arkansas Department of Finance & Administration, Arkansas Economic Development Institute, U.S. Census Bureau

The furniture store sector is also the most prominent among several that has been trending downward for several quarters–down 20% from a year ago. In the U.S. data, sales at furniture stores have declined by 11% over the past four quarters. Other sectors that have been declining in both Arkansas and the U.S. include Electronics and Appliance Stores, Building Materials Stores, and Gasoline Stations (the latter is primarily attributable to declining gasoline prices).

Sources: Arkansas Department of Finance & Administration, Arkansas Economic Development Institute, U.S. Census Bureau

Some elaboration on the Motor Vehicle and Parts Dealers data are in order:

The series on Motor vehicle and parts dealers required an adjustment to the timing of auto sales versus tax receipts during 2023. As of August 1, 2023, the time limit for car buyers to register their vehicles (and pay taxes) was raised from 30 days to 60 days. As a consequence, the timing of tax receipts relative to sales data had to be adjusted. Our approach was to assume that the lag between purchase and tax payment was a weighted average of one month and two months, with the weights evolving over the course of the year, but always summing to one. This had the effect of raising estimated auto sales during the year, and eliminating some of the volatility that emerged in the unadjusted data.

Sources: Arkansas Department of Finance & Administration, Arkansas Economic Development Institute

Carrying the analysis forward, the data for 2024 (assumed now to correspond to a two-month lag) shows a sharp drop in March 2024. March is typically a strong sales month for autos, so the seasonally adjusted decline corresponds to an increase in sales that was not proportionately as large as is “typical”. The result is a two percent decline for the first quarter of 2024.

Sources: Arkansas Department of Finance & Administration, Arkansas Economic Development Institute, U.S. Census Bureau

Going forward, we will continue to evaluate the timing of sales and tax revenues for motor vehicle sales. For now, consider a measure of total retail trade and food service sales that excludes autos. The quarterly decline for this measure was 0.3% (compared with -0.7% for the total that includes autos). Compared with 2023:Q1, the measure excluding autos was up by 0.3%, rather than by the 1.2% reported for the inclusive measure.

Sources: Arkansas Department of Finance & Administration, Arkansas Economic Development Institute, U.S. Census Bureau

One final note to bear in mind: The sales data are not adjusted for inflation. The nominal value of total retail sales was approximately 40% higher than average spending in 2019. After using the consumer price index to adjust for inflation, the growth in real consumer spending since 2019 has cumulated to only 15%.

Sources: Arkansas Department of Finance & Administration, Arkansas Economic Development Institute, U.S. Census Bureau, U.S. Bureau of Labor

Metro Area Employment and Unemployment – May 2024

The latest information on metro area employment and unemployment showed stability in labor markets across the state. Unemployment rates were unchanged in all of Arkansas’ metro areas except for Texarkana, where the rate ticked up by 0.1 percentage points.

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

Meanwhile, changes in nonfarm payroll employment were mixed. Employment increased n Northwest Arkansas, Fort Smith, Hot Springs, and Jonesboro. Declines were registered for Central Arkansas, Memphis, and Pine Bluff. Texarkana–the only metro area to see a change in the unemployment rate–had payroll employment that was essentially unchanged from the previous month.

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

Over the longer run, employment growth trends have diverged considerably. Over the past year Fayetteville continues to be the most rapidly growing metro area in the state, followed by Little Rock and Fort Smith. Growth in Jonesboro slowed in 2022 and 2023, but has picked up thus far in 2024. Hot Springs is down slightly over the past 12 months, and has seen little growth since mid 2022. Memphis, Pine Bluff, and Texarkana remain in the doldrums, with employment levels lower than at the onset of the Covid Contraction.

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

With little other information of interest to consider regarding metropolitan areas, this is an opportune time to look at a snapshot of county-level unemployment rates around the state. On the map below, the metro areas with the lowest unemployment rates (Northeast, Northwest, and Central) stand out, with Benton and Washington counties having the lowest rates of all (2.4% and 2.3%, respectively). Counties with unemployment rates above 5% are clustered in the southeastern part of the state, with the highest unemployment rates in Chicot and Desha counties (both at 5.7%).

Arkansas Personal Income – 2024:Q1

As is their relatively new practice, the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis issued a combined combined report on state-level GDP and Personal Income. [Link: Analysis of Arkansas GDP] The report showed that Arkansas Personal Income increased at a rate of 6.1% in the first quarter of 2024–somewhat slower than the 7.0% growth rate for the U.S. Arkansas’ quarterly growth rates have been erratic over the past two years, but this first observation for 2024 suggests a resumption of a trend paralleling the national average.

Source: Bureau of Economic Analysis

The contributions to overall growth from Net earnings and Dividends, interest & rent were nearly identical for the state and the nation. Arkansas growth rate lagged in the Transfer receipts component.

Source: Bureau of Economic Analysis

Nationwide, and for some of the higher-growth states, transfer payments accounted for a particularly large component of growth. The BEA report noted that “The increase in transfer receipts in the first quarter of 2024 reflected a 3.2 percent cost-of-living adjustment for social security recipients, along with increases in refundable tax credits and Medicaid benefits.” These adjustments had significant impacts on some states, but were proportionately smaller for Arkansas.

Source: Bureau of Economic Analysis

A breakdown of the major components of total earnings shows the key change in the turn-around in Arkansas’ growth in the first quarter: Proprietors’ income. After declining by 22.8% over the four quarters of 2023, Proprietors’ income rose by 4.4% in 2024:Q1 (an annualized growth rate of 18.8%). Dividends, interest & rent increased at an annualized rate of 5.3%, while Wages and salaries increased at a 4.7% pace.

Source: Bureau of Economic Analysis

As reported for the fourth quarter, Farm Proprietors’ Income has been the driving factor in the unusual swings in Arkansas’ growth patterns for Total Proprietors’ Income (and Total Personal Income) over the course of 2022 and 2023. In 2024:Q1, both farm and non-farm components increased.

Source: Bureau of Economic Analysis

A breaking down the components of earnings by industry highlights the importance of the Farm sector. Other important contributors to personal income growth were Construction, Health Care, and Administrative services.

Source: Bureau of Economic Analysis

The erratic nature of Farm income clearly complicates the analysis of underlying trends in personal income growth. The volatility in the time-series is likely related to changes in inventory valuations that accompany variability in commodity prices. In measuring farm income, the BEA factors in changes in agricultural commodity prices to revalue inventories, even though those changes may not actually impact farmers’ cash flows. To the extent that is true, the quarter-to-quarter fluctuations likely overstate the true volatility of farm income.

One final note: The personal income data are not adjusted for inflation. If we adjust the first quarter growth rates for a 3.4% rate of inflation (using the PCE price index) the rate of real personal income growth was 2.6% for Arkansas and 3.5% for U.S.

Arkansas GDP – 2024:Q1

State-level data on GDP was released today in a report from the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis. The report showed that Arkansas GDP expanded at a rate of 2.5%–well above the nation’s growth rate of 1.4% for the quarter. Arkansas growth rate ranked #11 among the 50 states.

The state’s first quarter growth rate was highest registered since the fourth quarter of 2022. Measured over the most recent four quarters, Arkansas growth rate was 1.3%, compared to 2.9% for the U.S.

Source: Bureau of Economic Analysis

A breakdown of contributions to GDP by sector shows that Arkansas’ growth rate was largely attributable to Agriculture. Construction also contributed to growth for both Arkansas and the U.S., as did most service-providing sectors.

Source: Bureau of Economic Analysis

The growth contribution of Agriculture to first-quarter GDP stands in sharp contrast to that sector’s contributions in previous quarters. Over the four quarters of 2023, Agriculture subtracted nearly a full percentage point from the state’s GDP growth. As shown in the figures below, rising farm output contributed positively to Arkansas’ overall growth rate in 2022, but was particularly relevant for the slow growth in the first half of 2023.

Source: Bureau of Economic Analysis
Source: Bureau of Economic Analysis

Without the Agriculture sector, Arkansas’ growth rate in the first quarter of 2024 would only be 0.6%. Nevertheless, the growth rate of non-Agricultural GDP over the past four quarters has been 2.1%–compared to the 1.3% growth rate for total GDP.

Arkansas Employment and Unemployment – May 2024

The state employment report for May was generally positive. Household employment increased and unemployment decreased. Nevertheless, the unemployment rate was unchanged at 3.4% and nonfarm payroll employment was basically flat for the month.

From the household survey, the number of employed increased by 3,406 from April to May, representing the 7th consecutive monthly increase. Cumulatively since October 2023, employment has increased by nearly 11,000. The number of unemployed has continued to decline, falling by 608 in May. Large gains in household employment over the past two months have pushed the labor force higher by 5,525 (+2,800 in May alone).

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

At 3.4%, the Arkansas unemployment rate is down slightly from the beginning of the year, but remains 0.5% higher than a year earlier. Meanwhile, the national unemployment rate has been edging higher, reaching 4.0% in May.

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics

Payroll Employment
Nonfarm payroll employment was little changed from April. The not-seasonally adjusted data showed an increase of only 200. After seasonal adjustment, payrolls were down by 3,300. Employment in goods-producing industries was unchanged, with gains in Manufacturing offsetting job losses in Construction and Mining. Service-providing sectors accounted for the decline, with the largest losses in Education & Health Services and Wholesale Trade. Leisure and Hospitality Services, which increased by 1,600 in the not-seasonally adjusted data, was down slightly after accounting for typical seasonal patterns.

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

Over the past twelve months, Arkansas payroll employment has increased by 16,200—or approximately 1.2%. Over the same period, U.S. payroll employment has increased by 1.8%.

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

# # #

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.

Metro Area Employment and Unemployment – April 2024

The latest estimates for employment and unemployment in metro areas were released by the BLS this week. Unemployment rates in most of Arkansas’ metro areas were unchanged, with small declines (-0.1%) registered for Northwest Arkansas and the Fort Smith MSA. It had been previously reported that the national unemployment rate ticked up by one-tenth of a percent in April, and that Arkansas’ unemployment rate ticked down by the same amount. Unemployment rates remain lower than the national average in Northwest Arkansas, Jonesboro, and Central Arkansas. In other metro areas, unemployment rates are at or above the national average.

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

Payroll Employment
Nonfarm payroll employment increased in most of the state’s metro areas in April, with the notable exception of Hot Springs. The largest percentage increases were in Northwest Arkansas and Jonesboro. Compared to a year ago, Northwest Arkansas has achieved the highest growth rate, followed by Central Arkansas. Employment in Fort Smith and Jonesboro have also increased, while other metro areas show zero or negative job growth.

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

Since the pre-pandemic month of February 2020, payroll employment growth rates have varied widely. Northwest Arkansas, Central Arkansas and Fort Smith have shown steady growth, albeit at different paces. Hot Springs and Jonesboro showed employment rebounds in 2022, but growth in those metro areas has slowed. In Pine Bluff, Texarkana and Memphis employment us unchanged or lower relative to levels in February 2020.

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

Arkansas Employment and Unemployment – April 2024

The latest report on state-level employment and unemployment showed another strong month for Arkansas’ labor markets. Unemployment was down and employment continues to expand at an accelerated pace relative to the second half of last year.

The unemployment rate ticked down one-tenth of a percentage point to 3.4% in April. The number of unemployed declined by 826, the third consecutive monthly decline. The number of employed was up by 3,577—representing an accelerated pace in a six-month growth trend. The labor force continues to increase as well, up 2,731 in April.

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

The unemployment rate has lower for three consecutive months now, although it remains 0.6 percentage points higher than a year ago. The U.S. unemployment rate increased to 3.9% and is 0.5 percentage points higher than in April 2023 (which was a low point for both Arkansas and the U.S.).

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics

Payroll Employment
Arkansas Nonfarm payroll employment expanded by 5,100 in April, following a revised 6,300 increase the previous month (seasonally adjusted). Nearly every major sector reflected higher employment in April, with the exception of Durable Goods manufacturing (-100 jobs). The largest employment gains were registered in Retail Trade and Health Care services.

Compared to a year earlier, Manufacturing, Wholesale Trade, and Information Services have all seen declines, with all other major sectors contributing to employment growth. Education and Health Services (particularly Health), Retail Trade, Leisure and Hospitality Services and Construction have all shown strong gains since April 2023. Total employment is up 23,600—about 1.8%. Over the same period, U.S. employment growth has also been 1.8%.

# # #

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.

Metro Area Employment and Unemployment – March 2024

The latest report on metro area employment and unemployment, for March 2024, incorporates the last of the annual data revisions by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Data for smoothed seasonally adjusted metropolitan area estimates were revised from January 2010 forward. As shown below, unemployment rates were revised slightly higher at the end of 2023 (with the exception of Memphis and Texarkana), and have remained steady or moved slightly lower in the first three months of 2024. As of March, most of the state’s metro areas had unemployment rates near the national average of 3.8%. Rates were lower in Fayetteville, Jonesboro and Little Rock, but higher in Pine Bluff.

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

The revisions to recent unemployment rates were generally similar to the revisions to statewide data: rates bottomed out earlier in 2023 than previously-published data suggested, rising gradually over the second half of the year. These revisions are primarily attributable to revisions of the number of unemployed workers in the underlying data.

The revised household data also had interesting implications for total employment across the state’s metro areas. As shown in the figures below, there were notable revisions going back several years for Hot Springs, Jonesboro, Pine Bluff and Texarkana–all reflecting lower employment estimates. More recent revisions show slower growth in Fayetteville, Jonesboro, Memphis and Texarkana. Recent employment growth was revised higher for Fort Smith and Little Rock. These patterns are similar to the revisions from the payroll survey that we previously reported.

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

Payroll Employment
Nonfarm payroll employment increased from February to March in six of the state’s metro areas, was unchanged in Memphis and down 0.2% in Hot Springs. The fastest growth rates were in Little Rock, Fayetteville, and Jonesboro. On a year-over-year basis, Little Rock is continuing to match the growth rate of the Fayetteville metro area, with Fort Smith also showing strong growth. Growth rates in Hot Springs and Jonesboro have recently slowed, while Memphis, Pine Bluff and Texarkana have seen employment declines over the past year.

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

Over the past four years (from February 2020) growth trends have varied widely among the state’s metro areas. Fayetteville’s 12.2% tops the list, with Little Rock and Jonesboro maintaining strong growth as well (higher than the U.S. average). On the other hand, Pine Bluff, Texarkana, and Memphis continue to show net job losses over the past four years.

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

Arkansas Employment and Unemployment – March 2024

The report on state employment and unemployment for March represents another upbeat reading on Arkansas labor market conditions. The unemployment rate declined by one-tenth of a percentage point to 3.5%. The U.S. unemployment rate declined from 3.9% to 3.8% for the month.

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics

The decline in the unemployment rate was driven by a drop of 1,228 in the number of unemployed, nearly matching the 1,322 decline of the previous month. In February and March, the number of unemployed has once again fallen below 50,000, after hovering slightly above that threshold from October 2023 through January 2024. Employment was up by 1,747 in March, outpacing the unemployment decline and resulting in a small expansion of the labor force (+519).

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

Payroll Employment
Nonfarm payroll employment increased by 6,500 jobs in March (seasonally adjusted). The increase represented a growth rate of 0.48% for the month (a 5.9% annual rate), which turned out to be the highest growth rate for March among all 50 states.

As shown in the table below, employment gains were widespread across sectors. Construction was off slightly from February, but remains among the fastest-growing sectors compared to a year ago. Employment in manufacturing was higher for both durable and nondurable goods. Among service-providing sectors, only Transportation & Utilities and Education & Healthcare showed small declines (although Health Care employment was up for the month). Both Professional & Business Services and Leisure & Hospitality services showed relatively large increases for the month after displaying sluggish growth over much of 2023.

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

The job growth in March raised the year-over-year growth rate of Arkansas employment to 18,500 jobs, or 1.4%. Over the same period, U.S. payroll employment expanded by 1.9%. As shown in the following figure, Arkansas continues to surpass the U.S. in cumulative growth since February 2020, with Arkansas employment expanding by 5.6% compared to 3.9% for the U.S.

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

# # #

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.