The unemployment rate in Arkansas declined another two-tenths of a percent in April, dropping to 7.2%. When the U.S. unemployment rate was reported to have fallen in April, many commentators pointed out that the drop was associated with a decline in the labor force. In Arkansas, however, the underlying statistics are more positive: The number of unemployed persons declined by 2,800 and the number of employed rose by nearly 3,300, so the labor force increased by almost 500. April marks the 9th consecutive month in which both the number of employed and the labor force increased, and the number of unemployed decreased.
The independent report on nonfarm payroll employment also conveyed good news for Arkansas. Seasonally adjusted data show that employment increased by 5,500 in April, bringing total employment almost back to the peak level observed in April 2011.
Employment gains were evident in several sectors of the Arkansas economy. Gains were particularly strong in Education & Health Services and Leisure & Hospitality Services. Employment in Retail Trade also showed a large increase. Goods producing sectors also expanded, with welcome employment gains in both Construction and Manufacturing. Compared to the start of the recession in December 2007, total employment in Arkansas is down by 37,500 — largely due to contraction of the manufacturing sector.
April’s payroll employment increases do not appear to have been spread evenly around the state. Data for metropolitan statistical areas (MSAs) show month-to-month gains in Fayetteville, Fort Smith, and Jonesboro. Employment in Texarkana was unchanged, but the state’s other MSA’s showed declines. Fort Smith has suffered the largest cumulative drop in employment since the start of the recession, so April’s increase of 2,200 jobs (+2.0%) represented a welcome departure from trend. The addition of 1,400 jobs in Northwest Arkansas (+0.7%) brings total employment for the Fayetteville MSA up to a level slightly higher than at the beginning of the recession. Jonesboro and Texarkana are the only other two MSAs in Arkansas that have this far acheived that distinction.
# # #*Seasonally adjusted data for Arkansas nonfarm payroll employment, reported in a format compatible with the monthly news release from the Arkansas Department of Workforce Services, are available here: Table – Seasonally Adjusted NFPE.