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Metro Area Employment and Unemployment – September 2021

The generally upbeat statistics in the September employment report for Arkansas carried over to today’s summary of job market conditions in the state’s metro areas.

Unemployment rates were down in in all eight metro areas covering parts of Arkansas.  The unemployment rate in Memphis took a particularly steep nosedive, falling from 6.5% to 5.3%.  Unemployment rates in the other seven metros declined by 0.1 to 0.3 percentage points.

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, Smoothed Seasonally Adjusted Metropolitan Area Estimates

With the September unemployment declines, metro areas moved closer to pre-pandemic unemployment rates.  Fort Smith, which had already seen unemployment drop to below the 3.7% reading registered in February 2020, dropped further below that baseline.  With the exception of Memphis and Texarkana, unemployment rates in all metro areas are within 1 percentage point of their February 2020 levels.

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, Smoothed Seasonally Adjusted Metropolitan Area Estimates

Payroll Employment
Changes in nonfarm payroll employment were more mixed across metro areas.  Employment was down in Little Rock, Pine Bluff, and Texarkana, but moved higher in the other metro areas.  The decline in Pine Bluff was particularly steep, with employment dropping by nearly a full percent.  Other metro areas saw increases of 0.1% to 0.4%

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

In spite of recent gains, employment totals generally remain lower than the pre-pandemic month of February 2020.  The exception is Northwest Arkansas, where employment is up 1.9%.  Fort Smith is very close to achieving pre-pandemic levels of employment, while in Hot Springs, Little Rock and Texarkana, employment remains more than 3% below that benchmark month.