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Metro Area Employment and Unemployment – April 2024

The latest estimates for employment and unemployment in metro areas were released by the BLS this week. Unemployment rates in most of Arkansas’ metro areas were unchanged, with small declines (-0.1%) registered for Northwest Arkansas and the Fort Smith MSA. It had been previously reported that the national unemployment rate ticked up by one-tenth of a percent in April, and that Arkansas’ unemployment rate ticked down by the same amount. Unemployment rates remain lower than the national average in Northwest Arkansas, Jonesboro, and Central Arkansas. In other metro areas, unemployment rates are at or above the national average.

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

Payroll Employment
Nonfarm payroll employment increased in most of the state’s metro areas in April, with the notable exception of Hot Springs. The largest percentage increases were in Northwest Arkansas and Jonesboro. Compared to a year ago, Northwest Arkansas has achieved the highest growth rate, followed by Central Arkansas. Employment in Fort Smith and Jonesboro have also increased, while other metro areas show zero or negative job growth.

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

Since the pre-pandemic month of February 2020, payroll employment growth rates have varied widely. Northwest Arkansas, Central Arkansas and Fort Smith have shown steady growth, albeit at different paces. Hot Springs and Jonesboro showed employment rebounds in 2022, but growth in those metro areas has slowed. In Pine Bluff, Texarkana and Memphis employment us unchanged or lower relative to levels in February 2020.

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

Metro Area Employment and Unemployment – March 2024

The latest report on metro area employment and unemployment, for March 2024, incorporates the last of the annual data revisions by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Data for smoothed seasonally adjusted metropolitan area estimates were revised from January 2010 forward. As shown below, unemployment rates were revised slightly higher at the end of 2023 (with the exception of Memphis and Texarkana), and have remained steady or moved slightly lower in the first three months of 2024. As of March, most of the state’s metro areas had unemployment rates near the national average of 3.8%. Rates were lower in Fayetteville, Jonesboro and Little Rock, but higher in Pine Bluff.

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

The revisions to recent unemployment rates were generally similar to the revisions to statewide data: rates bottomed out earlier in 2023 than previously-published data suggested, rising gradually over the second half of the year. These revisions are primarily attributable to revisions of the number of unemployed workers in the underlying data.

The revised household data also had interesting implications for total employment across the state’s metro areas. As shown in the figures below, there were notable revisions going back several years for Hot Springs, Jonesboro, Pine Bluff and Texarkana–all reflecting lower employment estimates. More recent revisions show slower growth in Fayetteville, Jonesboro, Memphis and Texarkana. Recent employment growth was revised higher for Fort Smith and Little Rock. These patterns are similar to the revisions from the payroll survey that we previously reported.

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

Payroll Employment
Nonfarm payroll employment increased from February to March in six of the state’s metro areas, was unchanged in Memphis and down 0.2% in Hot Springs. The fastest growth rates were in Little Rock, Fayetteville, and Jonesboro. On a year-over-year basis, Little Rock is continuing to match the growth rate of the Fayetteville metro area, with Fort Smith also showing strong growth. Growth rates in Hot Springs and Jonesboro have recently slowed, while Memphis, Pine Bluff and Texarkana have seen employment declines over the past year.

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

Over the past four years (from February 2020) growth trends have varied widely among the state’s metro areas. Fayetteville’s 12.2% tops the list, with Little Rock and Jonesboro maintaining strong growth as well (higher than the U.S. average). On the other hand, Pine Bluff, Texarkana, and Memphis continue to show net job losses over the past four years.

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

Metro Area Employment and Unemployment – January 2024

The Bureau of Labor Statistics has released new data on metro area employment and unemployment for January 2024, including annual revisions to previously-reported data.

The unemployment data have been partially revised, but comparable historical data will not be available until April 19. Today’s release did include revised, not-seasonally adjusted data for January 2023 and December 2023, so we can make some comparisons.  First, the figure below compares the new January unemployment rates with the revised unemployment rates from January 2023. Over the year increases ranged from 0.1 to 0.6 percentage points, with the exception of Texarkana, where the rate declined by 0.2. Five metro areas had unemployment rates above 4% in January 2024, while Fayetteville, Jonesboro, and Little Rock had rates below the statewide average.

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

The revisions to the data for metro areas generally appear to follow the pattern seen in the revised data for statewide unemployment. Specifically, that rates were revised lower for January 2023 but ended the year higher than originally reported.

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

Payroll Employment
Nonfarm payroll employment was up 0.3% in the Little Rock metro area, but unchanged or lower for the rest of the state. Pine Bluff and Texarkana had the largest declines. Compared to a year earlier, Little Rock showed the strongest growth at 2.0%, slightly outpacing Northwest Arkansas. As discussed below, this reversal of relative growth trends is largely attributable to revisions to the employment data for those two metro areas.

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

Over the longer run, cumulative growth rates since February 2020 have varied widely across the state, ranging from 11.1% in Northwest Arkansas to -2.8% in Pine Bluff.

Revisions to Payroll Employment Data
Payroll employment data for metro areas that was released this week was subject to the same annual benchmark revision process as for the statewide data. The revisions were generally limited to the period since April 2022 for not seasonally adjusted data, with minor changes to seasonal factors going back to 2019. The BLS report also mentioned that “Some not seasonally adjusted and seasonally adjusted series have been revised as far back as 1990.” The data for Arkansas metro areas include examples of these long-term adjustments of the series.

As shown in the set of figures below, employment data for Fayetteville and Fort Smith were subject to a downward shift for all pre-2022 data, while Little Rock shows a corresponding upward revision to the historical series.

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

More interesting are the revisions to recent growth trends. Over the two year period from December 2021 to December 2023, employment growth for Fayetteville was previously estimated to be 9.1%. In the revised data, the growth rate is only 6.9%. Growth rates for Jonesboro, Memphis, and Texarkana were also revised lower. Growth for Fort Smith and Hot Springs were revised higher, but the largest change was for Little Rock, where the previously-reported growth rate of 2.4% was revised up to 4.9%. The upward revision for Little Rock and the downward revision for Fayetteville, both primarily affecting data for 2023, resulted in the reversal of year-over-year growth patterns.

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

 

Metro Area Employment & Unemployment – December 2023

This week we received the final metro area employment report covering 2023. For the month of December, unemployment rates were generally higher across the state, while changes in payroll employment were mixed.

As shown the table below, the change in unemployment rates in December were 0.1 percentage points higher than in November for Northwest Arkansas, Fort Smith, Hot Springs, Jonesboro, and Little Rock. The rate in Pine Bluff was up 0.2 percentage points and was unchanged in Texarkana. Only in Memphis was there a decline in the unemployment rate for the month.

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, Smoothed Seasonally Adjusted Estimates

The table also shows that nearly all of Arkansas’ metro areas saw unemployment rates declining over the first half of the year and increasing over the second half of the year. This pattern is also clear in the figure below, with the exception of Texarkana and Memphis. Statewide, the unemployment rate ended the year at the same place it started. That was also true for Northwest Arkansas Little Rock, and Memphis. Year-over-year changes in the unemployment rate were positive for Fort Smith and Jonesboro; negative for Hot Springs, Pine Bluff, and Texarkana.

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, Smoothed Seasonally Adjusted Estimates

Payroll Employment
Nonfarm payroll employment showed mixed changes around the state, but increases tended to predominate. Employment was slightly higher in Fayetteville, Fort Smith,  and Little Rock.  Relatively large gains were recorded for Memphis and Texarkana.  Hot Springs and Pine Bluff saw employment declines and Jonesboro was unchanged.

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

Year-over-year growth rates varied considerably among the metro areas. Northwest Arkansas continued its robust growth trend and Texarkana has a strong year of growth after languishing in 2021 and 2022. Employment was down in Hot Springs, Little Rock and Memphis.

 

Metro Area Employment and Unemployment – September 2023

Mirroring the statewide report, Arkansas’ metro areas saw unemployment creep higher, with signs of slowing employment growth in some areas.

Among the eight metro areas that cover parts of the state, only Texarkana saw no change in its unemployment rate.  The unemployment rates in Northwest Arkansas, Hot Springs, Little Rock and Memphis were up 0.1 percentage points, while Fort Smith, Jonesboro and Pine Bluff matched the 0.2 percentage point increase reported for the state in September. Along with increases in August, unemployment rates have risen noticeably over the past two months, but generally remain lower than a year ago.

Notably, the patterns for metro areas that are primarily based in Arkansas show a similar pattern: A sharp decline in unemployment during the first half of the year, and a rebound in the past two-to-three months. This pattern is not evident in the data for Memphis and Texarkana, suggesting that the state-specific component for Arkansas is driving the results. In our analysis of the statewide report for September, we conjectured that the 2023 dip in Arkansas unemployment—not present in the national data—might be a data anomaly that will be smoothed after the annual revisions in January. The patterns seen in the metro area data reinforce that suspicion.

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

Unemployment rates in Fayetteville, Jonesboro and Little Rock remain lower than the statewide average of 2.9%, while rates in Memphis, Pine Bluff and Texarkana are above the national rate of 3.8%.  Fort Smith and Hot Springs occupy a space in-between the state and national rates.

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

Payroll Employment
Nonfarm payroll employment declined from August to September in Jonesboro, Fort Smith and Little Rock. On the other hand, the data show strong job growth in Northwest Arkansas, Hot Springs, Memphis and Texarkana. With a surge over the past three months, employment in Texarkana is now 3.1% higher than a year ago—a growth rate nearly as high as the 3.4% growth in the Fayetteville-Springdale-Rogers MSA. Jonesboro and Pine Bluff have also shown significant growth over the past 12 months, while Hot Springs, Little Rock and Memphis are essentially unchanged from a year ago.

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, Current Employment Statistics

The longer-term growth trends continue to indicate that the strongest job growth is in the northeast and northwest areas of the state, with Fayetteville-Springdale-Rogers expanding by 13% since February 2020, followed by Jonesboro with 6.7% growth.  Little Rock and Hot Springs have also grown significantly relative to pre-pandemic employment levels. Pine Bluff is the only metro area in the state where employment remains below the February 2020 benchmark.

Source:

Metro Area Employment and Unemployment – August 2023

Unemployment rates in Arkansas metropolitan areas ticked slightly higher in August, following the statewide uptick of 0.1 percentage points to 2.7%.  Rates in Hot Springs, Jonesboro, Little Rock and Pint Bluff matched the statewide increase and Fort Smith increased by 0.2 percentage points. Rates in Northwest Arkansas, Memphis and Texarkana were unchanged for the month.

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

After declining through the first half of 2023, the upticks in August (and in July for Fort Smith and Memphis), leave unemployment rates below year-ago readings in all metro areas, with the year-over-year declines ranging from 1.4 percentage points in Pine Bluff to 0.2 percentage points in Memphis.

As of August, unemployment rates were lower than the statewide average in the Fayetteville-Springdale-Rogers, Jonesboro and Little Rock-North Little Rock-Conway metro areas. Rates in Fort Smith and Hot Springs are above the statewide average, but below the national unemployment rate. In Memphis, Pine Bluff, and Texarkana, unemployment rates are near the national reading.

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

Payroll Employment
Changes in Nonfarm payroll employment were mixed in August. Payrolls expanded by 0.8% in Northwest Arkansas, with Fort Smith, Jonesboro and Pine Bluff also seeing notable growth. Employment was down in Hot Springs, Little Rock, Memphis and Texarkana.

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

Payroll growth over the past year has been very strong in Northwest Arkansas, Jonesboro, and Texarkana. Hot Springs and Memphis have experienced slight declines, while employment in Little Rock is unchanged relative to August 2022.  With the exceptions of Pine Bluff and Texarkana, employment is generally much higher now than it was before the onset of the COVID-19 Pandemic.

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

 

Metro Area Employment and Unemployment – April 2023

Arkansas’ unemployment rate fell to a new all-time low of 2.9% in April. Unemployment rates in the state’s metropolitan areas generally followed suit. Using the Smoothed Seasonally-Adjusted Metropolitan Area Estimates (which date back to January 1990), new series lows were recorded in Northwest Arkansas, Fort Smith, Little Rock and Pine Bluff. Jonesboro tied a record established in the data for March, and Hot Springs matched a record established in early (pre-pandemic) 2020. Texarkana’s April unemployment rate was only 0.1 percentage points higher than its record low from early 2020. Memphis’ unemployment rate was 0.4 percentage points higher than the series low in 1999.

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

Recent declines have been remarkable not only for their extent, but also their pace.  Over the past six months, unemployment rates have dropped by magnitudes ranging from 0.3 percentage points (Fayetteville and Memphis) to 1.1 percentage points (Pine Bluff).

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

Payroll Employment
Changes in nonfarm payroll employment were mixed in April. Robust increases were recorded for Fayetteville, Fort Smith and Little Rock (with a proportionately smaller increase in Jonesboro).  In Hot Springs, Memphis, and Pine Bluff employment contracted (to varying degrees).  Texarkana was unchanged for the month.

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

Longer-term growth measures are consistent with a clear difference in growth trends. Northwest Arkansas is the most rapidly expanding metro-area job market, with Jonesboro and Fort Smith also showing strong growth. Employment in Hot Springs continues to rebound from the disproportionate hit it took during the Covid-contraction. Little Rock, Memphis, Pine Bluff and Texarkana are showing more modest, but positive, growth trends. Only Pine Bluff and Texarkana remain below pre-pandemic employment levels.

Metro Area Employment and Unemployment – March 2023

New data for metro area employment and unemployment came out this week, including newly revised data from the household survey.  The revisions had minor effects on unemployment rates. As shown in the first two columns of the table below, unemployment rates were revised lower in all of Arkansas’ metro areas except for Texarkana (which was unchanged), with revisions ranging in size from 0.1 percentage points to 0.6 percentage points in Pine Bluff.

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

Over the first three months of 2023, unemployment rates have trended lower across the state. As of March, the unemployment rate was less than 3.0% (the statewide average) in four metro areas, with Northwest Arkansas registering a rate of only 2.1%. The largest declines in unemployment were recorded for Pine Bluff, where the unemployment rate has declined by 0.8 percent from the revised December rate of 5.0%.

Although the revisions to unemployment rates were generally minor, changes to the underlying data were, in some cases, substantial. The figures below illustrate the nature of the revisions for the numbers of employed in each metro area. Generally speaking, employment levels were revised lower for the two years leading up to the Covid-19 pandemic, with post-pandemic growth revised higher. Exceptions to this pattern include Memphis, Pine Bluff, and Texarkana, which now show slower post-Covid employment growth than originally estimated.

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

Payroll Employment
Nonfarm payroll employment showed mixed changes for the month of March. Payrolls expanded in Northwest Arkansas, Hot Springs, Jonesboro and Pine Bluff.  Declines were registered for Fort Smith, Little Rock and Memphis. Texarkana was unchanged.

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

Employment in the Fayetteville-Springdale-Rogers metro area continues to expand at over twice the statewide pace, increasing by 5.25 over the past 12 months and by 11.0% since the pre-pandemic peak of February 2020. Jonesboro and Fort Smith continue to maintain a healthy growth rates and Hot Springs has rebounded sharply from its particularly large downturn in 2020. Pine Bluff and Texarkana continue to lag behind the pace of the rest of the state, with both metro areas still showing net job losses relative to February 2020.

 

Metro Area Employment and Unemployment – January 2023

New and revised data on metropolitan area employment and unemployment were released this morning from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. As was the case with the state-level data earlier this week, data from both the household and payroll surveys were subject to annual revisions. In the case of unemployment rates and other indicators from the household survey, the revised data are only partly available (the full revisions will be available April 21, 2023).

The table below shows the revisions to metro area unemployment rates for January 2022 and December 2022, along with the new estimate for January 2023 (not-seasonally adjusted data). As of December 2022, the revised data shows slightly lower unemployment rates for Hot Springs, Little Rock, Memphis, and Pine Bluff. Texarkana’s rate was revised slightly upward, while the other metro areas were unchanged. From December 2022 to January 2023, unemployment rates increased for all metro areas, reflecting typical seasonal changes. (The unemployment rate always increases at the beginning of the new year, after the holiday season ends.)

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

The figure below summarizes the unemployment rates for metro areas in January and the change since a year ago. The pattern of rates around the state has changed little over the past year. The unemployment rates in Northwest Arkansas and in Jonesboro are running below the statewide average, while rates in Hot Springs, Memphis, Pine Bluff and Texarkana are running higher.  In Fort Smith and the Central Arkansas metro area, unemployment rates are close to the statewide average.

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

Payroll Employment
Nonfarm payroll employment data were extensively revised as part of the annual benchmark revision process. The figure below illustrates the changes. As was the case with the statewide data, the metro are employment numbers for Arkansas metro areas were generally revised higher.  The exceptions were Memphis and Pine Bluff (where the revisions were mixed) and Texarkana (where the data were revised lower).

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

The revised data now show that employment has expanded beyond pre-pandemic levels in all metro areas except Pine Bluff. All eight metro areas displayed significant growth over the past twelve months. The monthly data for January show robust increases in Pine Bluff and Texarkana, with smaller gains in Hot Springs, Jonesboro and Little Rock.  Data for the Memphis metro area show a slight decline for the month.

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

Metro Area Employment and Unemployment – December 2022

The end-of-year employment data for metropolitan areas is in. Most of Arkansas metro areas finished 2022 with unemployment rates slightly higher than in December of 2021. Compared to the statewide average of 3.5%, metro area unemployment rates were relatively low in Northwest Arkansas (F-S-R) and Jonesboro and relatively high in Hot Springs, Memphis, Pine Bluff and Texarkana.  An approximation of the unemployment rate for the remaining parts of the state (Non-Metro areas*) suggests an above average rate in those areas as well. In Fort Smith and Central Arkansas (LR-NLR-C), the unemployment rate was statistically equal to the statewide average.

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

There were no significant changes in unemployment rates from November to December.  Compared to a year ago, rates were generally up slightly across Arkansas metro areas, with the exception of the border-areas of Memphis and Texarkana, where unemployment rates declined relative December 2021. Our approximation for non-metro* portions of the state suggests an increase in unemployment rates than in any of the state’s metro areas.

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

Payroll Employment
Nonfarm payroll employment increased slightly in Hot Springs, Jonesboro, and Little Rock, while Texarkana and Pine Bluff saw larger monthly increases. Data for Memphis showed a small decline.  Compared to a year ago, employment is higher in every metro area, with most exceeding the statewide growth rate (with the exception of Pine Bluff).  Approximating the change in non-metro* employment, there was little employment growth over the past twelve months. Compared to the previous business cycle peak (February 2020), employment growth in non-metro regions appears to have exceeded every metro area except Northwest Arkansas.  All Metro areas except Pine Bluff had higher employment at year-end than in February 2020.

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

County Unemployment Rates
Data on unemployment rates at the county level (not seasonally adjusted) reflect a fairly typical pattern of unemployment rates around the state. Rates tend to be highest in counties in the Delta and along the southern tier of the state.  The lowest unemployment rates were in Northwest Arkansas, with Washington and Benton Counties registering rates of 2.0% and 2.1%, respectively. The counties with the highest unemployment rates were Ashley County (6.0%) and Phillips County (7.3%).  For reference, the statewide not-seasonally adjusted unemployment rate was 2.9%.

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*NOTE: The method used to estimate the non-metro portions of the state — subtracting the totals for all metro areas except Memphis and Texarkana from the statewide totals — is an approximation. It effectively includes Crittenden County and Miller County in the approximated non-metro total, while incorrectly subtracting employment and unemployment for Le Flore County, OK; Sequoyah County, OK; and McDonald County, MO.