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Metro Area Employment and Unemployment – March 2015

The latest report on metro area employment and unemployment showed that Arkansas metro areas continue to show dramatic year-over-year declines in unemployment rates.  As shown in the table below, unemployment rates have fallen by more than a full percentage point over the past year in Jonesboro, Memphis, Pine Bluff, and Texarkana.  The smallest decline in unemployment — in the Little Rock-North Little Rock-Conway metropolitan area — was 0.7%.

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

The data are  now fully revised to reflect new estimation methodologies and data sources, as well as changes in the definitions of metropolitan areas.  However, smoothed seasonally adjusted estimates have not yet been updated, so meaningful month-to-month comparisons are not possible.

Payroll Employment
The previously-reported statewide payroll data showed a sharp decline for Arkansas in March.  Although the drop-off appears to be largely weather-related, payroll employment declines were also prevalent across the state’s metro areas.   Employment declined in 6 of the 8 metro areas that include parts of Arkansas, was unchanged in Texarkana, and was up only slightly in Little Rock.  Compared to the previous year, employment has increased in 6 metro areas but is lower in Fort Smith and Pine Bluff.

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

The chart below illustrates the divergent patterns of employment growth across the state’s metro areas.  Compared to the fourth quarter of 2007 (before the onset of the 2008-09 recession), employment is up nearly 12% in Jonesboro and 9.5% in Northwest Arkansas.  In the Little Rock metro area, employment has now slightly exceeded it’s pre-recession level.  Hot Springs, Memphis and Fort Smith have shown employment gains over the past three years, but remain below pre-recession peaks.  Employment has continued to follow a downward trend in both Pine Bluff and Texarkana.*  Payroll employment in Pine Bluff is down 13.2% compared to the fourth quarter of 2007.

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

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*Note:  Payroll data for Texarkana (which now include Little River County) are not presently being published by the BLS on a seasonally adjusted basis.  Payroll employment figures for Texarkana refer to data that have been seasonally adjusted by the Institute for Economic Advancement.