The latest employment report for metropolitan areas showed that nonfarm payroll employment expanded in most of Arkansas’ metropolitan area. The exceptions were Memphis and Little Rock, which were both essentially unchanged. Employment in Hot Springs, Jonesboro and Pine Bluff increased by 1.0% compared to the previous month, while Fayetteville, Fort Smith and Texarkana saw somewhat smaller increases.
Since the employment trough of April 2020, Hot Springs has shown the strongest bounce-back: Up 17.0% in seven months. Hot Springs had previously experienced the largest percentage decline in employment over the February-April contraction. The smallest percentage recovery has been in Pine Bluff, which experienced a relatively small downturn early in the year but has seen sluggish recovery in the period since April. Relative to pre-pandemic employment levels, Jonesboro had recovered by September and continues to tally net gains for the year. The other metro areas in Arkansas remain below levels of February 2020, with net losses ranging from -0.8% in Texarkana to -4.5% in Little Rock.
Unemployment rates in Arkansas’ metro areas were generally little changed from the previous month. In Fayetteville and Pine Bluff, unemployment rates were unchanged. In Fort Smith, Hot Springs, Jonesboro, and Little Rock, unemployment rates declined by 0.1%. Larger changes were registered for Memphis and Texarkana: The unemployment rate in Memphis declined three full percentage points, from 9.9% to 6.9%. In Texarkana the unemployment rate increased by 0.9 percentage points, from 6.2% to 7.1%.
At the county level, unemployment rates were unchanged or higher in 66 counties in November, with unemployment rate declines in only nine counties. The largest decline was in Pulaski County, down 0.3 percentage points from 7.7% to 7.4%. As indicated in the interactive map below, counties with higher unemployment rates tend to be clustered in the eastern and southern portions of the state, with lower rates more prevalent in west and central Arkansas. Larger metropolitan areas also continue to show somewhat higher unemployment rates than the more rural areas. Madison County continues to register the lowest unemployment rate in the state at 3.9%, while Chicot County has the highest rate: 10.9%.