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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)