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.
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.
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.
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.