In its latest news release on metro area employment and unemployment, the Bureau of Labor Statistics noted that unemployment rates “were lower in May than a year earlier in 298 of the 388 metropolitan areas.” Seven of the eight metro areas including parts of Arkansas fell into this category, with Texarkana being one of the nation’s 66 metro areas to have higher unemployment than a year earlier.
Seasonally adjusted estimates showed unemployment rates were generally unchanged or ticked downward in May, with the exceptions being Fort Smith and Memphis. In Fort Smith, the rate ticked upward by 0.1 percentage point, while in Memphis the unemployment rate plummeted by 0.6 percentage points.
The sharp decline in Memphis’ unemployment rate wasn’t associated with a commensurate increase in employment. Rather, the data show a 13.5% decline in the number of unemployed, along with a decline in the number employed. The reason for this sudden drop in labor force participation is not clear.
Nonfarm payroll employment increased in five metro areas in May, declining in the other three. Pine Bluff saw a one-month increase in employment of 1.2%, bringing the total back up to the same level as a year ago. Little Rock’s employment ticked down 0.1% in May, and is little changed from a year ago. The fastest-growing employment markets in the state continue to in the Northwest and Northeast corners of the state. Employment in the Fayetteville MSA was up 0.8% in May, and is 4.3% higher than a year ago. In Jonesboro the one-month increase was 0.2%, corresponding to a 2% increase from May 2016. These two metro areas remain the only parts of Arkansas in which employment is significantly higher today than before the 2008-09 recession.