There is little to cheer about in the latest report on Arkansas employment and unemployment. The headline sounds fine: the state’s unemployment rate remained at the low level of 3.5% — slightly lower than the national unemployment rate of 3.7% (though the difference is not statistically significant).
However, changes in the statistics underlying the latest reading on the unemployment rate were not unambiguously positive. Household employment ticked up a bit (+670) but is still down more than 8,000 from a year ago. The number of unemployed had been declining for five consecutive months but increased slightly in October (+211). As a result of these increases, the labor force expanded by 881, but is down 11,000 from a year ago. The state’s labor force participation rate was unchanged at 55.4%, down 0.9% from October 2017.
Nonfarm payroll employment declined by 1,200 in October, and the September employment figure was revised down by 200. Compared to October 2017, Arkansas employment up 8,400, about 0.7%. Over the same 12 months, U.S. employment has increased 1.7%.
The October decline in payrolls corresponded to job-losses in Retail Trade, Financial Services, Other Services, Mining & Logging, and Manufacturing. Gains in other sectors were generally small, and the high-growth sector of Professional & Business Services stalled in October. Although total job growth over the past 12 months has slowed, year-over-year gains in goods-producing sectors remain encouraging and growth in Professional & Business Services and Education & Health services continue to drive overall employment higher.
Although the granules of good news in the October employment report are rare, we always caution that a single month of data should not be overemphasized. Unemployment remains low and payroll employment continues to rise (albeit at a slowing pace). There’s no reason to expect those fundamentals to change. We will continue to monitor monthly changes, with particular interest on how the annual data revisions due in early 2019 will affect our view of recent labor market developments in Arkansas.
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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.