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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.