The unemployment rate in Arkansas was unchanged at 7.2% in March. The household survey suggests that the number of unemployed has stabilized at approximately 96,000, but ongoing decline in household employment continued for a 13th consecutive month. Since February 2012 household employment has dropped by approximately 32,600 and the corresponding measure of the state’s labor force has dropped by 37,700. If this entire decline in employment was classified as an increase in unemployment (instead of as a reduction in the labor force), the state’s unemployment rate would now stand at 9.7%.
The payroll survey continued to show greater strength than the household report. Total nonfarm payroll employment was up by 2,400 in March (seasonally adjusted), following a revised increase of 3,000 in February. As shown in the table below, job losses were particularly notable in Leisure and Hospitality Services and Manufacturing. Without seasonal adjustment, employment in Leisure and Hospitality was up slightly (700 jobs), but that increase is far smaller than would typically be expected in March. Sectors with notable increases in employment included Construction and Business & Professional Services.
The two measures of state employment — the household survey and the payroll survey — continue to provide conflicting signals. The household measure of employment has now declined to a new post-recession low, while the payroll survey has shown positive growth (albeit slow and uneven) since February 2010. Except for the most recent observations (which are still subject to future revision) the payroll figures are based on a very inclusive and comprehensive set of data. This suggests that the anomalous reading are coming from the household survey. However, we cannot rule out the possibility that the household survey is documenting significant weakness in Arkansas labor-market trends that have yet to be fully reflected in the payroll data. Stay tuned.
# # #*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.