After recent data revisions reduced estimated employment growth considerably for 2017, incoming figures for 2018 indicate a continuing trend of stagnant growth. Household employment was down by 1,800 in February, following a January decline of 1,900. The number of unemployed was essentially unchanged in February, but has been creeping upward for nearly a year.
As a result of the declines in employment so far in 2018, the Arkansas unemployment rate edged up 0.1 percentage point in February to 3.8%. By itself, the uptick is not important (resulting from rounding the change from 3.746 in January to 3.752 in February) and is not even close to statistically significant. In fact, although Arkansas’ unemployment rate remains lower than the national average of 4.1%, that difference is not statistically significant either. Nevertheless, the important point is that Arkansas’ unemployment rate remains exceptionally low by historical standards.
Arkansas nonfarm payroll employment also registered a slight decline in February — down 500 jobs (seasonally adjusted). The January figure was revised downward by 400 jobs as well. The data continue a trend of near zero growth: Over the past 12 months, payroll employment is up by 2,500 jobs but most of that gain came in the increase from February to March of last year. Since March 2017, the net increase in Arkansas nonfarm payroll employment has been only 100 jobs.
By sector, the February employment decline was the result of lower employment in Manufacturing, Wholesale Trade, and Business & Professional Services. Leisure & Hospitality Services and Other Services registered monthly gains. Compared to a year ago, employment in Manufacturing and several service-providing sectors is up, while employment is lower in Retail Trade and Information Services, in particular.
Two Measures of Employment
The ongoing recent trend of zero employment growth is supported by both the household and payroll data. As shown in the figure below, the post-revision trends in these two employment measures are suggesting similar stories. Fairly rapid employment growth in 2014 through 2016 gave way to a slowdown — and more recently a slight downturn — in both series.
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*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, can be found here: Table-Seasonally Adjusted NFPE.