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Metro Area Employment and Unemployment – August 2012

New data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics show unemployment rates trending downward across most of the U.S. — and Arkansas is no exception.  The statistics for August show unemployment lower than the previous year in 325 of the nation’s 372 metro areas.  As shown in the table below, unemployment rate declines in Arkansas ranged from -0.6% in Fort Smith to -1.4% in Pine Bluff.

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, Local Area Unemployment Statistics

A quick comparison of August with the July unemployment rates would seem to suggest dramatic monthly declines; however, these changes primarily reflect recurring seasonal patterns — and the conventional unemployment measures for metro areas are not seasonally adjusted.  In this case, an important factor the start of the school year, when many teachers and students return to work or leave the labor force.  As a point of comparison, the headline unemployment rate statewide was unchanged in August at 7.3% (seasonally adjusted) while the not-seasonally-adjusted data showed a monthly decline of 0.9%.

Looking instead at the BLS’s smoothed seasonally adjusted estimates (below) we get a more accurate view of month-to-month changes.  From July to August, the seasonally adjusted figures show declines in Fayetteville, Hot Springs, Little Rock, Memphis and Pine Bluff.  The rate was unchanged in Jonesboro and Texarkana, while it increased in Fort Smith.

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, Smoothed Seasonally Adjusted Metropolitan Area Estimates

The following chart shows the trends in seasonally-adjusted unemployment rates over the past three years.  Rates have generally been in decline since autumn of 2011, although there has been some recent increases in Memphis and Fort Smith.

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, Smoothed Seasonally Adjusted Metropolitan Area Estimates

Payroll Data
Information from the survey of employers showed a wide range of employment changes among the state’s metro areas.  Texarkana showed a sharp monthly decline, with smaller contractions in Fort Smith, Hot Springs and Little Rock.  Employment was up in Memphis, Fayetteville, Pine Bluff , and especially Jonesboro.  Compared to a year earlier, employment was higher in six of the eight metro areas.  Relative to employment levels at the start of the recession, Arkansas now has three metro areas that have shown positive net job growth.

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, Current Employment Statistics

 

 

Arkansas Employment and Unemployment – August 2012

The unemployment rate in Arkansas was unchanged in August, remaining at 7.3%.  According to the news release from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 26 states saw increases in unemployment, 12 states saw decreases, and Arkansas was one of 12 states where the rate was unchanged.  Both employment and unemployment were down for the month, with the labor force declining by 3,600.  In percentage terms, this is nearly identical to the labor force contraction that was widely noted in the national unemployment statistics released two weeks ago.  From July 2011 through May of this year, Arkansas had been running counter to the national trend with labor force participation rising steadily.  August represents the third consecutive monthly decline.

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics

Payroll Employment:

Information from the payroll survey was a bit more upbeat.  Total employment was up 2,600 for the month (seasonally adjusted).   Construction employment alone was up by 2,000, reversing the sharp decline that we saw in July.   Employment in several service sectors also increased, including Education & Health Services and Leisure & Hospitality Services.  Government employment was also higher, with net increases in Federal, State, and Local government hiring.

On the down side, employment contracted in both Wholesale and Retail trade sectors (-1,200 combined) and was also down in the Manufacturing sectors (-1,300).  Manufacturing job-losses were present in both durable and nondurable goods production.

On a year-over-year basis, payroll employment is up by around 10,000 jobs, but most of that increase took place in the final months of 2011.  Total employment in August was essentially unchanged from its level at the beginning of 2012.

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics (CES)

Overall, the data from August reinforce the view that the steadily improving conditions we saw in Arkansas labor markets during the second half of 2011 and the first part of this year have given way to relative stagnation.  The unemployment rate is stuck in the range of 7.1 to 7.3, and payroll employment is similarly showing no clear trend in recent months.

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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, are available hereTable – Seasonally Adjusted NFPE.

Metro Area Employment and Unemployment – July 2012

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported this morning that unemployment rates were lower in July than a year earlier in 305 of the nation’s 372 metropolitan areas.  All of Arkansas’ metro areas were included in that total.  Statewide unemployment was down 0.7% from July 2011 (not seasonally adjusted).  As shown in the table below, metro area unemployment rates have fallen between 0.3% and 1.1% over the past year.

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics

The not-seasonally-adjusted figures showed some sharp increases from the previous month, but these changes were driven by the typical summer upturn associated with students and teachers being off for the summer.  The BLS’s smoothed seasonally adjusted estimates (below) show more modest increases.  Unemployment rates were unchanged in Fayetteville, Little Rock, and Texarkana.  They were up by 0.1% in Hot Springs, Jonesboro, and Pine Bluff.  Fort Smith and Memphis both saw somewhat larger increases (+0.3%).

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics

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Changes in payroll employment in the state’s metro areas covered a rather wide range.  Compared to the previous month, employment was down in Jonesboro (-0.6%), Fort Smith (-0.6%), Pine Bluff (-0.8%) and Fayetteville (-1.0%).   Employment increased in the state’s other metro areas, with changes ranging from +0.1% in Memphis to +1.0% in Texarkana.  Over the past 12 months, employment in Texarkana has increased by over 7%.  According to this morning’s report from the BLS,  this was the third-largest year-over-year percentage increase in the country.

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics

Employment hit a low point in February 2010 (for both Arkansas and the U.S.).  However, employment in three of the state’s metro areas has shown cumulative net declines since then.  Compared to the month before the recession started (December 2007), employment is still down in most metro areas.  Employment in Jonesboro is slightly above its pre-recession level (+0.4%) and it is considerably higher in Texarkana (4.9%).

Metro Area Employment & Unemployment – June 2012

The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported today that unemployment rates in June were lower than a year earlier in 328 of the nation’s 372 metropolitan areas.  In Arkansas, unemployment rates were down sharply in every metro area.  The smallest decline was for Little Rock, down 0.9%.  The unemployment rate in Pine Bluff was down 1.7% from June 2011.

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, Local Area Unemployment Statistics (LAUS)

Typically, month-to-month changes in the not-seasonally-adjusted unemployment rate data are dominated by predictable seasonal movements.  But the May-June seasonal effect is rather small, so the smoothed seasonally adjusted estimates for metro area unemployment rates this month are very close to the unadjusted data.  As shown in the table below, unemployment rates declined in 6 of the 8 metro areas.  Unemployment in Fort Smith was unchanged, and the rate ticked up one-tenth in Memphis.

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, Smoothed Seasonally Adjusted Metropolitan Area Estimates

Payroll Employment

Statewide data released on July 20 showed a monthly decline for Arkansas, down 4,300 jobs (-0.4%), but today’s data showed employment increase in all 8 of the state’s metro areas.  Employment in the Little Rock metro area was essentially unchanged, but for some MSAs the increases were substantial:  Jonesboro, Texarkana, and Pine Bluff all saw monthly increases exceeding one full percentage point.

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, Current Employment Statistics (CES)

The apparent disconnect between metro-area employment gains and statewide employment losses in June has several possible explanations.  It may be the case that most of the job losses took place in the non-metro area of the state, offsetting the metro-area gains.  Another possibility is that metro area job increases are taking place largely in the non-Arkansas counties within those areas, with counties on the Arkansas side of the border lagging.   Then again, it could just be a statistical anomaly due to sampling error or some other data discrepancy.  Unless the divergence between metro and state employment trends persists, however, it should not be a cause for great concern.

With the June payroll numbers now available, we can take a step back and consider the the longer-run trends using quarterly-average data.  The chart below shows quarterly payroll employment for Arkansas metro areas, using the peak of the previous economic expansion (2007:Q4) as a common starting point.  Texarkana, Jonesboro and Fayetteville now have higher levels of employment than before the recession.  Little Rock remains about 3% below the previous cyclical peak, with the other metro areas in the state lagging further behind.  Fort Smith, where employment has experienced a cumulative decline of about 13%, saw a welcome upturn in employment during the second quarter.

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, Current Employment Statistics (CES)

Arkansas Employment and Unemployment – June 2012

The unemployment rate in Arkansas ticked downward from 7.3% in May to 7.2% in June.  According to the report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), Arkansas was one of only 11 states to see a declining unemployment rate for the month.  Twenty-seven states recorded increases, and 12 states had no change.  The number of unemployed Arkansans declined by 1,884, falling to 99,185.  This was the first time Arkansas unemployment has fallen below 100,000 since February 2009.

The news from the household survey was not entirely positive, however.  The number of employed declined by 2,369 in June after showing essentially no change in the previous month.  As a result, the Arkansas labor force contracted by 4,253 — the first monthly downturn since July 2011.  Over the past several months, the combination of declining unemployment and an expanding labor force had distinguished Arkansas as one of the states where labor markets seemed to be outperforming the national average.

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics – Local Area Unemployment Statistics (LAUS)

Data from the employer survey confirmed the weakness in employment growth for the month.  Nonfarm payrolls were down 4,300 from the previous month (seasonally adjusted).  Most sectors of the economy experienced job losses, with the notable exception of Education & Health Services, which saw an increase of 2,000 jobs.  Leisure & Hospitality Services, Financial Services, and Wholesale trade also showed slight increases.

On a year-over-year basis, the seasonally adjusted figures show a net increase of 6,900 jobs since June 2011, with gains concentrated in Education & Health Services, and Leisure & Hospitality Services.  Employment in goods-producing sectors continues to languish:  Construction employment was down 3,000 from the previous year, and Manufacturing employment was down by 1,800.

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics – Current Employment Statistics (CES)

As recently reported here at the Arkansas Economist, the latest data from the Quarterly Census of Employment and Wages (QCEW) seems to be indicating that the payroll employment data will eventually be revised upward.  Specifically, the QCEW data show must stronger job growth in the latter part of 2011 than current employment reports have indicated.  If we take these likely revisions into account, payroll employment from June 2011 through June 2012 has expanded by over 16,000 instead of the 6,900 implied by today’s report.

Sources: Bureau of Labor Statistics, Institute for Economic Advancement

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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, are available hereTable – Seasonally Adjusted NFPE.

Employment in Arkansas – Reconciling the Accounts

Over the past several months, the Arkansas employment reports have been providing mixed signals.  On the one hand, the unemployment rate has declined dramatically as household employment has risen.  Meanwhile, the payroll employment statistics have shown rather sluggish growth rates.  The chart below compares these two measures of employment.  Although they are compiled from different surveys and measure slightly different concept of employment, the overall patterns of the two series are quite similar.*  The difference between growth rates over the past several months is apparent, however.  From May 2011 through May 2012, household employment has increased by 2.6% while payroll employment has gained only 0.6%.

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics

A third data source helps to reconcile these two divergent series.  The Quarterly Census of Employment and Wages (QCEW) represents a more comprehensive and accurate version of the payroll employment statistics.  In fact, the statistics from the QCEW represent the source-data for annual revisions of the payroll employment figures.  These revisions are often substantial (see here and here, for example).

Although we are still a long way from the annual revisions, the latest data from the QCEW already suggest that there will be large revisions to payroll employment statistics for the second half of 2011.  Using some simple statistical techniques to estimate the magnitude of the eventual data revisions, it appears that cumulative revisions to the end of 2011 will result in an employment level more than 11,000 higher than currently-published statistics.  The upward revision for October alone is expected to be more than 18,000.  As shown in figure below, the anticipated revision will raise the growth profile of payroll employment substantially.  With these estimated revisions included, payroll employment growth from May 2010 to May 2011 amounts to 1.5%, narrowing the observed gap between houshold and payroll employment growth.

Sources: Bureau of Labor Statistics, Institute for Economic Advancement

Because the actual benchmark revision will use QCEW data through the first quarter of 2012, the magnitude of the ultimate payroll data revision may end up being even larger.  What we can say for sure at this point is this:  The relatively weak growth of payroll employment observed over the past year is largely the result of preliminary data that under-measure the true extent of Arkansas employment growth.

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*The household employment statistics are based on survey measures and local economic models, and are compiled under the Local Area Unemployment Statistics (LAUS) program.  The payroll data are based on a survey of firms, and are published as part of the Current Employment Statistics (CES) program.

County Employment and Wages – 2011

This morning, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) released the latest information from the Quarterly Census of Employment and Wages (QCEW), covering the final quarter of 2011.  Although it is not as timely as the monthly employment statistics that are published under the Current Employment Statistics (CES) program, the QCEW report is more detailed and considered to be far more accurate.  One main attraction of the QCEW is that it presents employment and wage statistics for individual counties.  For the 75 counties of Arkansas, today’s report shows a fairly wide range of labor-market conditions across the state.

For employment growth, the QCEW shows a statewide growth rate of +1.0% from the fourth quarter of 2010 through the fourth quarter of 2011.  As shown in the map below, county employment growth rates ranged from -11.0% in Calhoun County to +11.2% in Hot Spring County.  The highest-growth counties are scattered around the state, but tend to cluster near the four corners of Arkansas.  Slower growing counties are concentrated in the south-central and north-central portions of the state.   A total of 30 counties experinced declines in employment and 44 showed positive growth.  Employment in Lawrence County was unchanged.

Mapping services provided by the GIS Applications Laboratory at the Institute for Economic Advancement.

Today’s report also included information on average weekly wages.  The statewide figures showed a decline of 1.2% for the year.  Growth rates for individual counties ranged from -13.9% in Bradley County to +21.4% in Stone County.  No clear pattern of wage changes is evident across the state, but many of the counties that saw positive wage growth are in the northern part of the state (although a handful of counties in the south and southwest also showed wage gains).  Nearly all of the counties across the center of the state (from Sebastian County in the east to Mississippi County in the west) experienced declining wages.  In all, 52 counties saw negative wage growth, 21 had postive growth rates, and wages in two counties (Hempstead and Newton) were unchanged.

Mapping services provided by the GIS Applications Laboratory at the Institute for Economic Advancement.

Regular readers of the Arkansas Economist will recall that data from the QCEW are used in the annual benchmark revisions of the Current Employment Statistics (the regular monthly reports on state and metro-area payroll employment).  Although the annual revisions will not be released until March of 2013 — and will incorporate information from the 2012:Q1 QCEW report — the information published today suggests that the next revision will (once again) be substantial.  Stay tuned for more information on that topic in the coming days.

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Note:  PDF files of the maps presented above are available here:   Covered Employment Growth,   Average Weekly Wages .

Metro Area Unemployment Rates – May 2012

The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported today that unemployment rates in May were lower than a year earlier in 331 of the nation’s 372 metropolitan areas.  All of the metro areas in Arkansas fell into this category.  Year-over-year changes ranged from -0.4 percentage points in Northwest Arkansas to    -1.1 percent in Memphis.

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics (Local Area Unemployment Statistics)

The reported unemployment rates were all up sharply from the previous month, but this largely reflects regular seasonal patterns.  According to the smoothed seasonally adjusted estimates released this afternoon, unemployment rates in May were largely unchanged from April.

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics (Smoothed Seasonally Adjusted Metropolitan Area Estimates)

 Payroll Employment

Today’s report from the BLS also noted that nonfarm payroll employment in May was up from the previous year in 266 metro areas.  Four of the state’s metro areas were included in this total.  The largest year-over-year percentage increase was recorded in Texarkana (+4.4%).  At the other extreme, payroll employment in Fort Smith was down 4.4%.  From April to May, payrolls were up in only three metro areas:  Little Rock (+0.7%), Pine Bluff (+0.8%) and Texarkana (+1.7%).

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics (Current Employment Statistics)

 

Arkansas Employment & Unemployment in May: No Change

New data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) and the Arkansas Department of Workforce Services (DWS) show that the unemployment rate ticked up one-tenth of a percentage point in May.  However, it would be more accurate to say the the rate was unchanged for the month:  Calculated out to the second decimal point, the unemployment rate rose from 7.24% to 7.27% — not nearly enough to be considered statistically significant.  Changes in the number of employed (-52) and unemployed (+329) were far too small to be considered meaningful in any quantitative sense.  Since hitting a high-point in July 2011, the number of unemployed in Arkansas is down by more than 10,000 and the number of employed is up by nearly 36,000.

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics

The statistics on Arkansas nonfarm payroll employment in May can be similarly characterized:  weak, but not significantly so.  For the month, total nonfarm payroll jobs were down by 1,000 (seasonally adjusted).  Meanwhile, the data for April were revised up by 1,400 jobs, so today’s statistics actually show a net increase compared to last month’s reported figures.  Compared to May 2011, the payroll report showed a gain of 6,500 jobs.  After briefly rising above 1.17 million jobs in June of 2010 and again in April 2011, this month’s report is the first since the recession to show two consecutive months above that threshold.

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics

Sectors losing jobs in May included Retail Trade (-2,700), Leisure & Hospitality Services (-700), and Construction (-500).  Sectors gaining jobs included Professional & Business Services (+1,400), Manufacturing (+1,100),  and Government (+900).  The increase in Government employment was almost exclusively in the category of Local Government.  Compared to May 2011, employment is down in several sectors, including Construction, Manufacturing, Retail Trade, Financial Services and Professional & Business Services.  The year-over-year total job growth has been concentrated in the service sectors of Education & Health, Leisure and Hospitality, and Government (especially Local Government).  From the start of the recession in December 2007, total employment in Arkansas is still down by over 37,000 jobs.

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics

After two months of relatively weak employment reports on the national level, it is not surprising that the data for Arkansas employment in May are disappointing.  Nevertheless, the statistics do not indicate a downturn in the state’s labor market conditions;  Rather, they appear to represent a brief stalling of the upward momentum we’ve seen over the past several months.

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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, are available hereTable – Seasonally Adjusted NFPE.

Metro Area Unemployment Rates – April 2012

The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported today that unemployment rates in Arkansas metro areas were down sharply in April compared to a year earlier.  Year-over-year changes ranged from -0.5 percentage points in Little Rock to -1.4 percent in Memphis.  Broadly speaking, the metro areas with the highest unemployment rates a year ago have seen the largest declines over the past 12 months.

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, Local Area Unemployment Statistics (LAUS)
Smoothed seasonally adjusted estimates for April showed monthly unemployment-rate declines in every metro area except Hot Springs, where the rate was unchanged.  Unemployment was down by 0.2% in  Fort Smith, Pine Bluff, and Texarkana.  Declines of 0.1% were recorded for Fayetteville, Jonesboro, Little Rock, and Memphis.
Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, Smoothed Seasonally Adjusted Metropolitan Area Estimates

As shown in the chart below, the latest data continue to follow a clear trend of improving employment conditions across the state.

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, Smoothed Seasonally Adjusted Metropolitan Area Estimates