The Bureau of Labor Statistics has released state-level data on employment and unemployment for the month of February. Arkansas’ unemployment rate remained unchanged for the month at 3.5%, matching the U.S. rate. The number of unemployed was down by 269 and the number of employed was up 1,239. As a result, the labor force expanded by 970.
We don’t normally track weekly initial claims for unemployment insurance, but yesterday’s release for the week ending March 21 was noteworthy. For the U.S., the number of new unemployment claims was 3,283,000, shattering the previous record-high of 695,000 recorded in October 1982. The labor department reported that “nearly every state providing comments cited the COVID-19 virus impacts” to explain the surge. In Arkansas, new claims were up by 8,958, an increase of 548% from the previous week. Most states experienced even larger increases, with the largest percentage gain being 3308% in New Hampshire. The increase in Arkansas was the 40th-largest percentage gain among the 50 states and District of Columbia.
The initial claims data give an indication of what is in store for upcoming unemployment reports. A simple back-of-the-envelope calculation — adding the number of new claims to the number of unemployed in February (and subtracting the same number from the number employed) — suggests a two percentage point increase in the national unemployment rate, from 3.5% to 5.5%. The same calculation for Arkansas suggests a smaller increase, from 3.5% to 4.2%. This is not the way the actual unemployment rate is calculated, but it is indicative of the magnitude and likely impact of the initial claims data that came out this week.
Arkansas nonfarm payroll employment declined by 2,900 in February. The number for January — originally reported as an increase of 400 — was revised to show a 400-job decline. February’s job total was slightly lower than the number posted for a year earlier (-700).
Employment in most sectors showed small changes, with the exceptions including job losses in Transportation & Utilities (-1,500) and Leisure & Hospitality Services (-2,200). Employment in the Professional & Business Services sector was up by 1,100.
The year-over-year decline in employment includes prominent job-losses in Manufacturing (-3,000), Leisure & Hospitality Services (-2,300) and Retail Trade (-1,600). Employment in Government declined by 1,500 compared to year earlier, with the decline entirely attributable to local government employment (in the educational services sub-sector).
Sectors adding jobs over the past 12 months included Education & Health Services (+3,400), Wholesale Trade (+1,700) and Construction (+1,400).
The annual march-madness of BLS data revisions was reflected in updated payroll data for metropolitan areas last week. The downward revision to the state total as of December (reported previously) was reflected in lower estimates of employment for Northwest Arkansas and Central Arkansas. Data for Jonesboro and Texarkana were revised upward.
The data revisions had the effect of lowering two-year growth estimates for most metro areas, with the exceptions again being Jonesboro and Texarkana.
New data for February was also available following this morning’s state employment report. Declines were reported for four of the state’s metro areas, with gains reported for Hot Springs, Memphis and Texarkana. Jonesboro was unchanged. Compared to a year earlier, Fayetteville and Jonesboro top the list for job growth. Year-over-year declines were registered for Fort Smith, Little Rock and Pine Bluff. For Little Rock, the combination of data-revisions and the February decline make for a rather different trajectory for job growth than was indicated in the previously-published data.
The figures below illustrate the effects of revisions and newly-released data on recent employment trends in Arkansas’ metro areas.
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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 Department of Workforce Services, can be found here: Table-Seasonally Adjusted NFPE.