This morning, the Bureau of Labor Statistics released the latest information (for October) on employment and unemployment in Metropolitan Statical Areas (MSAs) around the nation. The report suggests that labor markets in Arkansas’ metro areas are slowly improving.
Unemployment in three of Arkansas’ MSAs fell in October (seasonally adjusted data*). Rates in both Hot Springs and Texarkana were down 0.1% while Pine Bluff fell 0.3%. Rates in Fort Smith and Little Rock were unchanged. Only two MSAs saw higher unemployment: Rates in Fayetteville and Jonesboro both rose by 0.2%.
It might appear that unemployment rates around the state are following a rising trend. But if we take a step back and look at the pattern that rates have followed over the course of 2010 it looks more like a mini-double dip employment recession.
In actuality, the patterns in the data are related to the hiring and subsequent layoffs of temporary Census workers. Arkansas’ MSA’s have followed the same pattern seen in statewide and national data: rates falling from around April until July, then rising until September or October, leaving unemployment rates about where they were in April. This matches the timing of the surge in the employment of temporary Census workers. Netting out this effect, unemployment has been approximately flat for most of 2010.
Changes in nonfarm payroll employment provide encouraging signs: October employment growth was zero or positive in each of the state’s MSAs. This is not surprising, given the state-level data showing that Arkansas’ employment growth was the fastest in the nation in October. Since the end of 2009, payroll growth has been positive in three of the seven MSAs. Relative to a last October, growth has been positive in four MSAs.
In terms of recovering the jobs that were lost during the recession, the figure below shows the cumulative change in employment since the start of the recession (December 2007). Employment in the MSA’s of Hot Springs, Jonesboro, Texarkana — and more recently, Pine Bluff — have begun to increase from their low points earlier in year. In fact, Jonesboro has experienced positive net employment growth since the start of the recession. The other metro areas have a long way to go.
Although the effects of temporary Census workers have distorted the statistics, unemployment rates appears to be stabilizing. And payroll employment figures are showing signs of real improvement (particularly in some areas of the state). Employment statistics are lagging indicators (especially the unemployment rate), so even though we are nearly 1 – 1/2 years into the recovery it is likely to take considerably more time before the employment situation returns to a healthy state.
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*Seasonally adjusted data for MSA Payroll Employment are available from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. However, data for unemployment rates are not. In order to facilitate comparisons over different months of the year, unemployment rates are seasonally adjusted by the Institute for Economic Advancement using the conventional Census-X12 ARIMA procedure.