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Metro Area Employment and Unemployment – July 2020

The latest report on metro area employment and unemployment mirrors the statewide report released two weeks ago.  Unemployment rates generally edged higher, while payroll employment surged.

As shown in the figure and table below, unemployment rates were unchanged in Northwest Arkansas and Texarkana but were higher in the state’s other metro areas.  Hot Springs and Pine Bluff saw increases of 0.2 percentage points.

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

Although rates edged higher in July, they are still well below the levels of a year ago, having fallen by at least one-half of a percentage point over the past twelve months.

Payroll Employment
Nonfarm payroll employment increased sharply across the state. Hot Springs was the only exception, with payrolls unchanged for the month.  In Little Rock and Texarkana, the percentage increase for July exceeded even the unusually-large 0/9% increase reported for the state.  Compared to a year ago, employment increases range from 1.5% in Hot Springs to 5.4% in Northwest Arkansas.  With the July gains, only Hot Springs and Pine Bluff remain below pre-pandemic employment levels.

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

The figure below shows payroll employment trends since the start of 2020.  Interestingly, the two metro areas that remain below pre-pandemic employment levels, Hot Springs and Pine Bluff, experienced the two opposite extremes during the pandemic months:  Hot Springs was the hardest-hit in early 2020, declining by nearly 18% from February to April, while the downturn in Pine Bluff was less than 7%.

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

 

Arkansas Employment and Unemployment – July 2022

On its surface, the latest data on Arkansas employment and unemployment might appear disappointing, but the data also point to some positive developments.

The unemployment rate increased slightly, rising from 3.2% in June to 3.3% in July.  Even with the uptick, the unemployment rate is still extraordinarily low and remains below the national unemployment rate (although the difference is not statistically significant).

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics

Underlying the change in the unemployment rate, the data show that the number of unemployed Arkansans increased by 1,084 while the number of employed was essentially unchanged (-36).  The rising number of unemployed is certainly a concern, particularly in the context of July being the fourth consecutive month of increase.  On the other hand, the labor force has continued to expand.  As net new entrants to the labor force expand the pool of workers, it is not surprising to see a transitory increase in the number of unemployed.  Meanwhile, the stalling of employment growth in July appears to be more of a pause in steady growth, rather than a change in trend.

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

Payroll Employment
The monthly press release from the Arkansas Division of Workforce Services reported a net decline of 2,900 jobs in July.  However, that not-seasonally adjusted number includes 10,800 in government employment, primarily reflecting the summer break at public schools and universities.  Net of this sharp, but perfectly explicable and expected decline, payroll employment in other sectors showed healthy increases.

Looking at the seasonally adjusted data, Nonfarm Payroll Employment increased by 11,200 jobs, an increase of 0.9%.  The news release from the Bureau of Labor Statistics noted that Arkansas had the second-largest percentage increase of employment in the nation (Hawaii’s growth for the month was 1.3% and Missouri tied with Arkansas at 0.9%).  Increases were evident in nearly every sector, including seasonally-adjusted government employment.  Gains were particularly notable in Health Services and Leisure & Hospitality Services.  As a whole, the Trade, Transportation & Utilities super-sector gained 1,600 jobs  Goods-producing industries also added jobs in July, with increases in Construction and both Durable- and Non-Durable manufacturing sectors expanding.

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

Compared to July 2021, payroll employment is up 36,600 jobs—an increase of greater than 2.8%.  Some sectors are down from their highs from the summer of 2021, including Construction and Retail Trade.  However, most sectors have shown significant growth, particularly those that continue to recover from the pandemic/recession (e.g. Leisure and Hospitality Services, Health Services and Transportation).

With the July increase of 11,200 jobs, along with an upward revision of 1,500 to June’s total, payroll employment is now 14,800 (2.0%) above the pre-pandemic/recession month of February 2020.  Nationwide, payroll employment surpassed its February 2020 peak for the first time (barely) in July.

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. 

Metro Area Employment and Unemployment – June 2022

The latest report on metro area employment and unemployment was just about as un-newsworthy as the state-level report that came out two weeks ago.  Unemployment rates were little changed from May to June, with up-ticks of one-tenth percent in Fayetteville, Fort Smith, and Jonesboro; and a one-tenth down-tick in Pine Bluff.  Unemployment rates have remained remarkably low and stable.  In the past six months, the only cumulative changes of more than one-tenth of a percentage point were in Memphis (-0.4) and Texarkana (-0.3).  Compared to June 2022, unemployment rates are down by about one percentage point across the state.  Unemployment rates in Memphis and Hot Springs have fallen the most in the past 12 months, attributable to the fact that rates in those metro areas were higher than others during the pandemic-recession.

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

Payroll Employment
Changes in nonfarm payroll employment were mixed across metro areas.  Six of the eight metro areas saw increases in employment, with the largest gains in Pine Bluff (+1.0%)  and Jonesboro (+0.7%).  Employment in Little Rock declined by 0.4% and was down slightly in Fort Smith.

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

Compared to a year ago, employment growth has been relatively strong in all metro areas.  The highest growth rates have been in Fayetteville (+5.3%), Memphis (+3.2%) and Jonesboro (+3.0%)  Those three metro areas are also the only three where total employment was higher in June 2022 than it was in February 2020, just prior to the pandemic-recession.

Arkansas Employment and Unemployment – June 2022

Arkansas labor market conditions were little-changed in June.  The unemployment rate was unchanged at 3.2%, paralleling the national unemployment rate, which was unchanged at 3.6%.

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics

The number of unemployed workers crept slightly higher again in June, rising by 688 compared to the May figures.  The number of unemployed has increased for three consecutive months, rising by approximately 2,000 since April.  The number of  employed rose by 2,050 in June pushing the labor force up by 2,738.

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

Payroll Employment
Nonfarm payroll employment increased by 4,100 in June, recovering from a downwardly revised decline of 4,400 in the previous month (seasonally adjusted data).  Solid job-growth was seen throughout the goods-producing sector and in Trade, Transportation and Utilities.  The only sectors where employment declined in June was Professional and Business Services, Leisure and Hospitality Services, Other Services and Government.  The decline in Government employment was concentrated in the state and local government, associated with employment in education.  The Department of Workforce Services also cited declines in temporary workers at schools as contributing to the decline in the Administrative & Support Services component of Professional and Business Services.

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

Construction employment increased by 1,100 jobs, but remains slightly below the level of a year ago.  Retail Trade, Government Services,and Mining & Logging are also down from June 2021.  Total employment over the past 12 months has increased by 32,500, representing an increase of 2.5%.  Gains have been small in recent months, however.  The cumulative increase in employment since January has been only 500 jobs.  Compared to the business-cycle peak of February 2020, Arkansas employment is up by 9,200 (1.0%).  A comparable calculation for the United States shows that the nation has yet to recover to pre-pandemic levels, remaining 0.3% below the employment total of February 2020.

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. 

Metro Area Employment and Unemployment – May 2022

The latest report on metro area employment and unemployment last week showed little change in unemployment rates across the state.  The data for May showed unemployment rates unchanged from April in six of the state’s metropolitan areas, with rates ticking up one-tenth of a percentage point in Jonesboro and Pine Bluff.  Compared to a year ago, rates are down by more than a full percentage point in all metros.

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

A comparison across metro areas shows that relative unemployment rates have returned to a pattern similar to before the pandemic/recession.  Comparing May 2022 with May 2019, the relative ranking of unemployment rate is essentially unchanged, with lower rates today in Northwest Arkansas, Fort Smith and Jonesboro.  In the remaining metro areas, unemployment rates are slightly higher than they were three years ago.

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

County Unemployment Rates
A comparison of unemployment rates across counties for May 2022 indicates that the relative rates across regions of the state have similarly returned to a pattern reminiscent of before the pandemic/recession.  Rates are lowest in the north and west, with Benton and Washington Counties having the lowest rates in the state, 2.2%.  The highest unemployment rates are in the south and east, where Chicot County has the statewide high of 7.4% and Ashley, Mississippi, and Phillips Counties all having unemployment rates of at least 6%.

As is the case with comparisons across metro areas, the counties with the highest unemployment rates also tend to be those where rates are higher than before the pandemic/recession.  Unemployment rates in May 2022 exceeded rates of May 2019 by more than a full percentage point in Ashley, Desha, Mississippi, and Phillips Counties.

Metro Payroll Employment
On the nonfarm payroll side of the employment report there was somewhat more variation among metro areas.  Hot Springs, Jonesboro and Pine Bluff showed monthly increases of at least 0.5%.  Employment was up slightly in Little Rock, down somewhat in Memphis and Texarkana, and unchanged in Fayetteville and Fort Smith.  All metro areas have shown solid growth over the most recent 12 months, with growth rates ranging from 1.3% in Pine Bluff to 5.3% in Northwest Arkansas.

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

Relative to the cyclical peak of February 2020, employment has not yet returned to pre-pandemic levels in Fort Smith, Hot Springs, Pine Bluff and Texarkana.

Arkansas Retail Sales – 2022:Q1

The latest data on AEDI’s measure of Arkansas Retail Trade and Food Service Sales indicates that consumer spending remained robust in the first three months of the year. The typical seasonal slowdown in January and February was somewhat sharper than usual, so the seasonally adjusted measure of Retail Sales showed small month-to-month declines (-1.3% in January and -0.6% in February). Sales in March rebounded sharply, however, with  seasonally-adjusted retail sales rising 4.6%. Year-over-year growth is somewhat distorted by events last year. In particular, severe winter weather in February 2021 interrupted an acceleration in spending that resumed the following month. If we consider quarterly averages, growth from 2021:Q1 to 2022:Q1 was 10.8%.

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

A comparison with U.S. data shows that Arkansas retail sales continue to trend higher than the national average. Calculating from a pre-pandemic base period of 2019:Q4, Arkansas retail sales had cumulatively risen 33.5% as of March 2022. For the U.S., the comparable calculation is an increase of 28.2%.

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

The table below shows year-over-year growth rates for the major categories of spending in the retail sales statistics over the past two years.  Growth figures are reported for first-quarter averages. By this metric, retail sales increased 15.4% in 2021 and 10.8% in 2022. Data for the U.S. show a similar pattern, with double-digit growth in both years.

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

Growth rates among various sectors differed considerably, reflecting various rates of recovery from the 2020 pandemic/recession. The fastest-growth sector from 2021 to 2022 has been Gasoline Stations, with the increases driven exclusively by higher prices. (According to state gasoline tax statistics, the number of gasoline gallons sold in 2022:Q1 was down 0.1% from 2021:Q1.) Some of the slower-growing sectors (e.g. Health and Personal Care; Sporting Goods, etc.) has previously shown significant increases in 2021.

Retail Sales and Inflation
Of course, gasoline is not the only good that has been rising in price. Consumer price inflation was 8.0% from 2021:Q1 to 2022:Q1.  Consequently, if we adjust total retail sales for the all-items CPI, the increase in “real” (inflation adjusted) spending over that period was approximately 2.6%. After inflation adjustment, the rising trend in spending over the second half of 2021 turns out to represent little if any real growth.

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

In some sectors, adjusting for inflation can have important implications for longer term trends. For example, nominal spending at Food and Beverage Stores appears to have permanently shifted higher in the post-pandemic era. After adjusting for Consumer Prices on Food at Home, grocery and liquor store sales appear to be trending back toward pre-pandemic spending patterns.

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

Similarly, rapidly rising prices for new and used automobiles has affected the nominal vs. real behavior of the Motor Vehicles and Parts component of retail sales. In nominal terms, this component has risen 30.0% from 2020:Q1 to 2022:Q1. The CPI for New & Used Autos, however, rose 27.1% over the same period. Consequently, real spending on motor vehicles and parts is now only slightly higher than at the start of the pandemic/recession.

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

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Documentation of Methodology is available here: Arkansas Retail Sales—A New Data Set from AEDI.
NOTE:  As of the release of data for December 2021, the seasonal adjustment procedure has been updated from the crude regression-based approach used in earlier analyses.  With data covering over four years, it is now possible to implement more sophisticated techniques. Specifically, we have implemented a version of the Census X-13 ARIMA model to seasonally adjust the data by sector.

Data for Arkansas Retail and Food Service Sales for July 2017 through March 2022 are available in an Excel Spreadsheet:  Arkansas-Retail-Sales-March-2022. The data set includes statewide aggregates and components, both seasonally adjusted and not-seasonally adjusted. County-level data for Total Retail and Food Service Sales excluding Gasoline are available on a not-seasonally adjusted basis.

Arkansas Employment and Unemployment – May 2022

Labor markets in Arkansas continue to display tight conditions with unemployment near historic lows, yet payroll employment growth seems to have stalled in the first half of 2022.

The report for May showed the unemployment rate unchanged at 3.2%. The U.S. unemployment rate was also unchanged for the month, remaining at 3.6% (the difference is not statistically significant).

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics

Underlying the unemployment rate calculation: The number of unemployed edged slightly higher (+178) and the number of employed rose by 2,367, resulting in a net gain in the labor force of 2,545.  The increases in the number of employed and in the labor force have been substantial over the first 5 months of the year, but both measures remain well-below pre-pandemic totals.

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

Payroll Employment
In contrast to the measures of employment from the household survey, the payroll side of the employment report indicates that total employment surpassed pre-pandemic levels in November 2021.  However, growth since then has been minimal.  Today’s report showed a monthly decline of 2,300 jobs, and the data for April were revised downward by 1,400 (seasonally adjusted data).  Total nonfarm payroll employment for May stood at 1,307,500, cumulatively down 1,500 jobs since January.  Relative to the previous business cycle peak (February 2020), Arkansas payroll employment is up by 0.9%.  Nationwide employment remains slightly lower than in February 2020–down 0.5%.

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

Although the not-seasonally adjusted data showed a slight increase in payroll employment for May, the typical growth in employment that takes place between January and mid-year has been lackluster.  A breakdown of the seasonally adjusted decline of 2,300 jobs in May shows particularly prominent job-losses in Retail Trade and Health Services–two sectors that were hard-hit during the early phases of the pandemic but which have showed significant recovery since.  Similarly, Leisure and Hospitality services showed a monthly decline after significant progress toward recovery.  Other service-providing sectors showed job gains, including Professional & Business Services and Financial Services.

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

Most sectors have recovered relative to the pandemic-recession, but Leisure & Hospitality Services and Government (particularly state and local education-related employment) remain below the previous peak of February 2020.

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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. 

 

 

 

Metro Area Employment and Unemployment – April 2022

The April data for metro are employment and unemployment came out this week showing little change in unemployment rates across Arkansas’ regions.  As shown below, unemployment rates have settled into relatively unchanging levels after falling from pandemic-recession highs.  From March to April, the statewide unemployment rate ticked up one tenth of a percentage point, as did the unemployment rates in Fort Smith, Hot Springs, Jonesboro, Little Rock and Pine Bluff.  The rate in Texarkana declined by one tenth.  Compared to April 2021, unemployment rates are down between 1.1 percentage points (in Northwest Arkansas) to down 2.2% (in Memphis).

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

Differences remain among metro area unemployment rates.  Rates are the lowest In Northwest Arkansas and Jonesboro, with Fort Smith and Little Rock approximately equal to the statewide average.  Hot Springs, Memphis, Pine Bluff and Texarkana remain higher than either the statewide or national averages.

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

Payroll Employment
Nonfarm payroll employment showed mixed changes across metro areas in April. Employment was down slightly in Fort Smith, and down 0.3% in both Hot Springs and Jonesboro.  Other metro areas showed increases for the month, with Little Rock registering the largest proportional increase (0.5%).

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

Compared to a year ago, employment is higher in all of Arkansas’ metro areas, the the fastest growth in Northwest Arkansas (5.8%).  Employment still lags pre-pandemic levels (as of February 2020) in Fort Smith Hot Springs, Pine Bluff and Texarkana.

Arkansas Employment and Unemployment – April 2022

Although the unemployment rate ticked up a tenth of a point in April, the employment report for Arkansas was generally positive.  Both the household and payroll surveys showed employment growth, and labor force participation rose for the fourth consecutive month.

The unemployment rate ticked up from 3.1% to 3.2% as the number of unemployed increased by 1,133.  The household measure of employment rose by 4,522—the fourth consecutive monthly increase.  Since December, the number employed has risen by 19,806. The labor force expanded by 5,655, increasing the labor force participation rate by 0.2 percentage points to 56.8%.

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

The Arkansas unemployment rate remains exceptionally low, although the difference between the state’s 3.2% rate and the national unemployment rate of 3.6% is not statistically significant.

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics

Payroll Employment
Arkansas nonfarm payroll employment increased by 2,400 in April (seasonally adjusted).  Most sectors showed gains, with the exception of Construction (which may have been affected by poor weather conditions), Retail Trade, and Professional & Business Services.  The job losses in Professional & Business services were primarily in the category of Administrative & Support Services.  Other service providing sectors showed strong gains, including Health Care & Social Assistance, and Accommodation & Food Services.

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

Compared to a year earlier, Arkansas nonfarm payroll employment was up 37,400 jobs in April.  The net gain relative to the previous business-cycle peak (February 2020) is now up to 12,600.

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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. 

Arkansas Employment and Unemployment – March 2022

The employment report for March showed the Arkansas unemployment rate unchanged at 3.1% and a negligible change in total payroll employment.

The headline unemployment rate was unchanged, although the number of unemployed dropped by approximately 750 and employment increased by 5,225.  This was the third consecutive month that household employment increased by more than 5,000.  Driven by the higher employment, the Arkansas labor force expanded by 4,508 in March and has increased by 13,500 since December of 2021.

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

The U.S. unemployment rate had previously been reported to have declined from 3.8% in February to 3.6% in March.  Although the Arkansas unemployment rate is still one-half percentage point lower than the national average, the difference has narrowed to the point that there is no statistically significant difference between the state and national rates.

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics

As a result of the strong household employment growth of the past three months, Arkansas’ labor force participation rate has risen from 56.2% in December 2021 to 56.6% in March.  Despite the recent recovery, the participation rate remains nearly two percentage points lower than in February 2020.  The participation rate for the U.S. has also been sluggish, but is down only one percent from the previous cyclical peak.

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics

Note, however, that the household measure of employment continues to show significantly slower cumulative growth since the onset of the pandemic-recession than the payroll measure (see below).  To the extent that household employment statistics are understating employment growth, the state’s labor force participation rate could be biased downward.

Payroll Employment
Nonfarm payroll employment was little-change in March declining by 300 jobs (seasonally adjusted).  Sectors with employment declines included Education and Health Services, Professional and Business Services, and Retail Trade.  Within Education & Health, job losses were entirely attributable to Health Care and Social Assistance.  The decline in Professional & Business Services was concentrated in Administrative & Support services.  Other sectors saw employment increases, including Transportation & Utilities, and Leisure and Hospitality Services.

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, Current Employment Statistics

Over the past 12 months, the only sectors showing net employment declines are Health Services, Other Services, and Mining & Logging.  Compared the peak month of February 2020, most sectors are now in positive territory (or close) with the notable exceptions of Leisure and Hospitality Services and Government (where the declines are associated with state and local public education).

Although the pace of payroll employment growth has slowed in Arkansas, the cumulative change since the onset of the pandemic-recession is slightly positive (+0.9%).  In comparison, U.S. payroll employment remains 1.0% lower than in February 2020.

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, Current Employment Statistics

Household vs. Payroll Employment
Recent strong gains in the household measure of employment have brought the year-over-year increases in the two measures of employment close to parity:  From March 2021, household employment is up 31,600 and payroll employment is up 35,300.  Nevertheless, the household measure has yet to show significant recovery from the pandemic-recession downturn. Since April 2020, payroll employment has expanded by 140,400 and household employment by only 59,908.

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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.