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Metro Area Employment and Unemployment – May 2022

The latest report on metro area employment and unemployment last week showed little change in unemployment rates across the state.  The data for May showed unemployment rates unchanged from April in six of the state’s metropolitan areas, with rates ticking up one-tenth of a percentage point in Jonesboro and Pine Bluff.  Compared to a year ago, rates are down by more than a full percentage point in all metros.

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

A comparison across metro areas shows that relative unemployment rates have returned to a pattern similar to before the pandemic/recession.  Comparing May 2022 with May 2019, the relative ranking of unemployment rate is essentially unchanged, with lower rates today in Northwest Arkansas, Fort Smith and Jonesboro.  In the remaining metro areas, unemployment rates are slightly higher than they were three years ago.

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

County Unemployment Rates
A comparison of unemployment rates across counties for May 2022 indicates that the relative rates across regions of the state have similarly returned to a pattern reminiscent of before the pandemic/recession.  Rates are lowest in the north and west, with Benton and Washington Counties having the lowest rates in the state, 2.2%.  The highest unemployment rates are in the south and east, where Chicot County has the statewide high of 7.4% and Ashley, Mississippi, and Phillips Counties all having unemployment rates of at least 6%.

As is the case with comparisons across metro areas, the counties with the highest unemployment rates also tend to be those where rates are higher than before the pandemic/recession.  Unemployment rates in May 2022 exceeded rates of May 2019 by more than a full percentage point in Ashley, Desha, Mississippi, and Phillips Counties.

Metro Payroll Employment
On the nonfarm payroll side of the employment report there was somewhat more variation among metro areas.  Hot Springs, Jonesboro and Pine Bluff showed monthly increases of at least 0.5%.  Employment was up slightly in Little Rock, down somewhat in Memphis and Texarkana, and unchanged in Fayetteville and Fort Smith.  All metro areas have shown solid growth over the most recent 12 months, with growth rates ranging from 1.3% in Pine Bluff to 5.3% in Northwest Arkansas.

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

Relative to the cyclical peak of February 2020, employment has not yet returned to pre-pandemic levels in Fort Smith, Hot Springs, Pine Bluff and Texarkana.

Metro Area Employment and Unemployment – April 2022

The April data for metro are employment and unemployment came out this week showing little change in unemployment rates across Arkansas’ regions.  As shown below, unemployment rates have settled into relatively unchanging levels after falling from pandemic-recession highs.  From March to April, the statewide unemployment rate ticked up one tenth of a percentage point, as did the unemployment rates in Fort Smith, Hot Springs, Jonesboro, Little Rock and Pine Bluff.  The rate in Texarkana declined by one tenth.  Compared to April 2021, unemployment rates are down between 1.1 percentage points (in Northwest Arkansas) to down 2.2% (in Memphis).

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

Differences remain among metro area unemployment rates.  Rates are the lowest In Northwest Arkansas and Jonesboro, with Fort Smith and Little Rock approximately equal to the statewide average.  Hot Springs, Memphis, Pine Bluff and Texarkana remain higher than either the statewide or national averages.

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

Payroll Employment
Nonfarm payroll employment showed mixed changes across metro areas in April. Employment was down slightly in Fort Smith, and down 0.3% in both Hot Springs and Jonesboro.  Other metro areas showed increases for the month, with Little Rock registering the largest proportional increase (0.5%).

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

Compared to a year ago, employment is higher in all of Arkansas’ metro areas, the the fastest growth in Northwest Arkansas (5.8%).  Employment still lags pre-pandemic levels (as of February 2020) in Fort Smith Hot Springs, Pine Bluff and Texarkana.

Metro Area Employment and Unemployment – January 2022

The latest data on metro area employment and unemployment was released by the Bureau of Labor Statistics this morning.  As with all of the monthly employment data, the metro area data have been revised or are in the process of revision.

The unemployment data from the Local Area Unemployment Statistics (LAUS) data set have been updated, but the revision is incomplete:  A full accounting of the revised data won’t be available until April 3.  For now, we have revised, not-seasonally adjusted data for January and December 2021, along with new estimates for January 2022.  The figure and table below display the unemployment rates for January and the revisions to unemployment rates for January and December 2021.

In terms of unemployment rate levels for January, the lowest rate in the state is in Northwest Arkansas and the highest is in Pine Bluff.  Four metro areas have unemployment rates above the statewide average, and four have rates below the average.

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

Revisions for 2021 values were all in the direction of higher estimates than previously reported.  From December 2021 to January 2022, the newly published data show that unemployment rates increased in all metro areas.  However, the data reported in the table below are for not-seasonally adjusted data.  A sharp increase in unemployment in January is one of the most prominent features of the seasonal pattern of unemployment rates.

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

Payroll Employment
Data on nonfarm payroll employment were also revised.  The figure and table below show the nature of the revisions.  The new data show slightly improved growth rates for Hot Springs, Jonesboro, and Texarkana.  Little Rock employment for December 2021 was revised higher by 10,300 jobs (2.8%).  Downward revisions can be seen for Northwest Arkansas, Fort Smith, Memphis and Pine Bluff.  Among the downward revisions, the largest was for Pine Bluff–revised downward by 800 jobs in December (-2.5%).

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

Note that the total magnitude of the revision for all eight metro areas is 6,300, while the statewide total revision was 21,300.  Hence we can infer that significant upward revision affected the non-metropolitan portions of the state as well.

Incorporating the new, preliminary estimates for January, payroll employment growth rates are summarized in the table below:

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

For January, Hot Springs and Pine Bluff each showed declines of 1.0%; however, growth rates were positive for all metro areas in the state.  Compared to a year ago, Pine Bluff is the only metro area to have shown a net decline.  Relative to the pre-Recession/Pandemic month of February 2020, Northwest Arkansas and Jonesboro are the only metro areas to have shown positive net growth.  After incorporating the data revisions, Little Rock and Memphis are now nearly unchanged relative to February 2020.

Metro Area Employment and Unemployment – December 2021

December was a strong month for labor markets in Arkansas, and today’s report on metropolitan area employment and unemployment confirmed that the strength was widespread.

Unemployment rates declined by at least 0.2 percentage point in all eight metro areas of the state.  December unemployment rates ranged from a low of 2.1% in Northwest Arkansas to 4.8% in Pine Bluff.  Compared to the previous December, unemployment rates were down sharply, and are now lower than pre-pandemic rates in six of the eight metro areas (Memphis and Texarkana both have slightly higher rates than in February 2020).

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

Payroll Employment
Nonfarm payroll employment expanded significantly in several metro areas in December, with gains of 0.8% in Hot Springs and 0.7% in Texarkana.  Little Rock was the only metro area to show a decline for the month.  Compared to the previous December, employment has increased in all metro areas except Hot Springs, which continues to display employment growth below trend.

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

Three metro areas have now equaled or exceeded the employment peaks of February 2020, with Fort Smith and Jonesboro having just attained those benchmarks in December.  Memphis and Pine Bluff are each within 1 percent of their February 2020 peaks, while Hot Springs, Little Rock, and Texarkana remain 2 to 3 percent lower.

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

Metro Area Employment and Unemployment – November 2021

The most recent report on metro area employment and unemployment showed that the strong state-level employment reports for October and November were reflected in all regions of the state.  As previously reported, the state’s unemployment rate declined sharply in November, falling by 0.3% to 3.4%.  All eight of the metro areas with portions in Arkansas saw similar declines for the month.  With the most recent declines, five metro areas now have unemployment rates equal to or lower than the rates that prevailed in the pre-pandemic month of February 2020.

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

Payroll Employment
Changes in nonfarm payroll employment were more mixed, with sharp increases in Northwest Arkansas, Memphis, Pine Bluff and Texarkana.  Employment  was unchanged for the month in Little Rock and Fort Smith, and declined in Hot Springs and Jonesboro.  Employment in the Fayetteville-Springdale-Rogers metro area is now nearly 4% higher than before the pandemic/recession.  In the rest of the state, however, employment remains below pre-pandemic levels.  Hot Springs, Little Rock and Texarkana are have employment totals that are more than 3% lower than in early 2020.

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

As shown in the figure below, the spread in unemployment rates among Arkansas metro areas continues to reflect the relative impact of the Covid-19 Recession.  Metro areas that were among the hardest hit, including Hot Springs, Little Rock and Texarkana remain at the low end of employment growth.  Pine Bluff and Fort Smith, which lost relatively fewer jobs during the recession, are faring relatively well.  As usual, Northwest Arkansas is something of an outlier, with post-pandemic growth rates far exceeding the rest of the state.

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

 

 

 

Metro Area Employment & Unemployment – October 2021

Today’s report on metro area employment showed that the positive developments seen in the state-level report carried over to all of Arkansas’ metro areas.  Unemployment declined and payroll employment expanded.

The statewide unemployment rate had previously been reported as declining by a remarkable 0.3 percentage points to 3.7%.  Unemployment rates in all eight of Arkansas’ metro areas reflected the lower unemployment, with rates falling by 0.2 to 0.4 percentage points.  Rates are considerably lower than a year ago, and are generally near pre-pandemic levels.  Unemployment rates are lower than in February 2020 in Texarkana, Fort Smith, and the Fayetteville MSA.  Memphis, Texarkana and Little Rock continue to experience higher unemployment rates than before the economic downturn, but even in those metro areas rates are elevated by less than a percentage point.

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, Smoothed Metropolitan Area Estimates

News from the payroll survey was similarly upbeat: employment increased in five metro areas and decreased in none.  Gains were particularly notable in Jonesboro (+1,800), Fayetteville (+900), and Texarkana (+500).  All eight metro areas have shown positive employment growth over the past 12 months, and two—Jonesboro and Fayetteville—now show higher employment levels than before the pandemic.

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

Metro Area Employment and Unemployment – September 2021

The generally upbeat statistics in the September employment report for Arkansas carried over to today’s summary of job market conditions in the state’s metro areas.

Unemployment rates were down in in all eight metro areas covering parts of Arkansas.  The unemployment rate in Memphis took a particularly steep nosedive, falling from 6.5% to 5.3%.  Unemployment rates in the other seven metros declined by 0.1 to 0.3 percentage points.

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

With the September unemployment declines, metro areas moved closer to pre-pandemic unemployment rates.  Fort Smith, which had already seen unemployment drop to below the 3.7% reading registered in February 2020, dropped further below that baseline.  With the exception of Memphis and Texarkana, unemployment rates in all metro areas are within 1 percentage point of their February 2020 levels.

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

Payroll Employment
Changes in nonfarm payroll employment were more mixed across metro areas.  Employment was down in Little Rock, Pine Bluff, and Texarkana, but moved higher in the other metro areas.  The decline in Pine Bluff was particularly steep, with employment dropping by nearly a full percent.  Other metro areas saw increases of 0.1% to 0.4%

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

In spite of recent gains, employment totals generally remain lower than the pre-pandemic month of February 2020.  The exception is Northwest Arkansas, where employment is up 1.9%.  Fort Smith is very close to achieving pre-pandemic levels of employment, while in Hot Springs, Little Rock and Texarkana, employment remains more than 3% below that benchmark month.

 

Metro Area Employment and Unemployment – August 2021

The latest report on metropolitan area employment shows ongoing improvement in Arkansas’ metro areas, with some recovering from the COVID-19 recession more rapidly than others. Five of the eight metro areas covering parts of Arkansas saw the unemployment rate decline by 0.1 percentage point in August, matching the statewide change.  In Pine Bluff, the unemployment rate declined by 0.3 percentage points, while in Hot Springs the rate dropped by 0.8 percentage points.  In Northwest Arkansas the unemployment rate was unchanged at 2.7%—the lowest reading in the state.

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

Over the past 12 months, changes in unemployment rates largely reflect reversal of the sharp increases that occurred in March and April of 2020.  Hot Springs and Memphis, the two metro areas where unemployment rates have fallen by over 4 percentage points over the past year, experienced particularly high unemployment rates in April 2020, peaking at 15.6% and 13.4%, respectively. Texarkana spiked at 13.8% unemployment last April, but recovered fairly quickly between April and August 2020, experiencing a relatively smaller net change over the past 12 months.

Relative the pre-pandemic conditions, the recovery in Fort Smith has been significant:  The August unemployment rate of 3.6% was the second-lowest in the state, and is 0.1 percentage point lower than it was in February 2020.  Unemployment in Memphis and Texarkana remains elevated, but the unemployment rates in Fayetteville, Hot Springs, Jonesboro, Little Rock and Pine Bluff are all less than one percentage point higher than at the last business cycle peak.

Payroll Employment
Nonfarm payroll employment increased in five of Arkansas’ metro areas in August, with the largest increase in Northwest Arkansas (+0.6%).  Employment in Hot Springs and Texarkana was down for the month, with Little Rock unchanged.

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

After the August increase, employment in the Fayetteville MSA represented a net gain of 2.1% relative to February 2020.  Employment in all other metro areas remains below pre-pandemic levels with the net declines having narrowed to between 1% and 2% in Fort Smith, Jonesboro, Memphis and Pine Bluff. In the remaining metro areas—Hot Springs, Little Rock and Texarkana—employment remains more than 3% lower than in February 2020.

Taking the latest data at face value, it is clear that the Fayetteville metro area—which was growing at the fastest rate before the pandemic—has experienced the most robust recovery among Arkansas’ metro areas.  Fort Smith has also shown significant improvement, with the second-lowest unemployment rate and the second-best net employment change since February 2020.  Indicators from the household survey and the payroll survey give mixed signals regarding other metro areas, but Texarkana stands out as one of the three highest unemployment rates and one of the three largest net employment declines since the onset of the COVID-19 recession.

Metro Area Employment and Unemployment – July 2021

The statewide employment data released two weeks ago showed an ongoing slow pace of recovery in Arkansas labor markets.  The unemployment rate, for example, ticked down by less than one-tenth of a percentage point (seasonally adjusted). Newly published data for metropolitan areas appear to show more significant improvement, at least in some areas of the state.  However, some of that improvement appears to be attributable to problems with the seasonal adjustment procedures for metropolitan areas—particularly in the context of data volatility during the pandemic.

As shown in the table below, unemployment rates declined across most of Arkansas’ metro areas.  In some cases the declines appear sizable.  Rates in the Fayetteville, Fort Smith, Hot Springs, Little Rock and Texarkana metro areas declined by half a percentage point or more.  Only Memphis (which includes one county in Arkansas) saw no decline in unemployment.

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

Taking the data at face value, one might be tempted to conclude that the contrast between statewide unemployment and metro area unemployment indicates that non-metropolitan areas of the state must have experienced an increase in unemployment.  However, upon closer inspection, the difference between statewide and metro area unemployment rates is actually a function of imprecise seasonal adjustment methods.  The two figures below illustrate seasonally adjusted and not-seasonally adjusted data on the number of unemployed statewide and in Northwest Arkansas (the Fayetteville-Springdale-Rogers metro area).  In both cases, the typical seasonal pattern includes an increase in unemployment in June and a subsequent decline in July.  In the statewide data, the seasonal adjustment process indicates that much of the decline in July was a typical seasonal movement, with only a slight decline in not-seasonally adjusted unemployment.  In the case of the Fayetteville metro area, however, less of the July decline was attributed to seasonal movements, and more to a decline in the seasonally adjusted data.

So how to interpret the metro area statistics relative to the statewide data?  With a grain of salt.  Data-collection and processing have been problematic during the pandemic, due to problems with survey methodology and the interpretation of unusually volatile month-to-month observations.  Over the past year, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) has worked with modified approaches to identifying “outliers” from the typical seasonal patterns, leaving greater-than-usual uncertainty about the interpretation of short-term fluctuations.  In general, the seasonal adjustment techniques used for the statewide data are more robust than the metro area data.  In fact, the seasonally adjusted data for metro area unemployment are not published as part of the BLS’s regular data-reporting programs, but are maintained on a separate page of the Bureau’s website.

So here’s what we can safely say about July unemployment in Arkansas:  The number of unemployed declined sharply, but that is typical of July in general.  In some metro areas, the declines appear to have been larger than would be anticipated for a typical July, but disentangling seasonal and cyclical components is tricky, so we shouldn’t put undue emphasis on the cyclical declines that show up in the metro area data.

From a longer run perspective, however, the picture is more clear.  Unemployment rates have fallen considerably over the past 12 months, with some of the largest declines occurring in those metro areas that experienced the sharpest increases in unemployment during the spring of 2020.  Across the state, unemployment rates remain elevated; but in Fayetteville and Fort Smith, unemployment has nearly returned to pre-pandemic levels.

Payroll Employment
Data on nonfarm payroll employment generally provide a more accurate view of labor market conditions.  The data for July appear to corroborate the indication from the household survey that Fayetteville and Fort Smith are recovering with somewhat more momentum than the rest of the state. The Fayetteville metro area is now showing employment levels above those recorded in February 2020.  Pine Bluff, which experienced proportionally smaller employment declines during the recession, has also made considerable progress toward returning to pre-pandemic conditions.  Among the other metro areas in the state, there was little change in payroll employment in July.  In most metro areas, employment remains below the levels recorded in February 2020, but the gaps remain smaller than for the nationwide average.

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

 

 

Metro Area Employment and Unemployment – May 2021

Statewide employment trends have shown a slow pace of recovery over the past three months, and the data for the state’s metropolitan areas generally reflect that

Unemployment rates were unchanged in five of the state’s metro areas, but declined slightly in Fort Smith, Jonesboro and Little Rock. The 0.2 percentage point decline in Fort Smith came on top of a 0.1 percentage point downward revision to April’s unemployment rate. On the other hand, Jonesboro, Little Rock, and Pine Bluff all saw upward revisions of 0.1 percentage points for April.

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

Compared to a year ago, unemployment rates have fallen significantly in all of Arkansas’ metro areas. Of course, that’s not surprising. The News Release from the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported “Unemployment rates were lower in May than a year earlier in all 389 metropolitan areas” across the United States. The relative magnitudes of the changes largely reflect the initial impacts of COVID-19 driving unemployment rates higher a year ago. For example, Hot Springs experienced the largest spike in unemployment last spring and has shown the largest decline since then. Unemployment rates remain one to two percentage points higher than in the pre-pandemic month of February 2020. The fact that the statewide rate has fallen to within 0.6 percentage points of it’s February 2020 rate suggests that the non-metropolitan areas of the state have recovered more fully.

Such a pattern is borne out in a breakdown of unemployment rate changes by county. Because the data for counties are not seasonally adjusted, the map below measures changes from May 2019 to May 2021. In a handful of counties, unemployment rates are lower in May 2021 than they were two years earlier. Unemployment rates in metropolitan areas remain elevated, along with several counties in the Delta region. The aggregate for all metropolitan counties in May was 4.2% up 1.3 percentage points from two years earlier. For nonmetropolitan counties, the May unemployment rate—while somewhat higher at 4.9%—was only 0.8 percentage points higher than in May of 2019.

Payroll Employment
Nonfarm payroll employment was up 0.3% statewide in May (seasonally adjusted), but metro area estimates varied considerably. Employment in Jonesboro and Texarkana surged by 1.7% and 1.3%, respectively; and payrolls also expanded in Fayetteville, Hot Springs and Memphis. Employment declined for the month in Little Rock and Pine Bluff, and was unchanged in Fort Smith. Compared to February 2020, employment is down across all metro areas, with the net declines ranging from -0.5% in Northwest Arkansas to -4.0% in Central Arkansas.

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