Mirroring the statewide report, Arkansas’ metro areas saw unemployment creep higher, with signs of slowing employment growth in some areas.
Among the eight metro areas that cover parts of the state, only Texarkana saw no change in its unemployment rate. The unemployment rates in Northwest Arkansas, Hot Springs, Little Rock and Memphis were up 0.1 percentage points, while Fort Smith, Jonesboro and Pine Bluff matched the 0.2 percentage point increase reported for the state in September. Along with increases in August, unemployment rates have risen noticeably over the past two months, but generally remain lower than a year ago.
Notably, the patterns for metro areas that are primarily based in Arkansas show a similar pattern: A sharp decline in unemployment during the first half of the year, and a rebound in the past two-to-three months. This pattern is not evident in the data for Memphis and Texarkana, suggesting that the state-specific component for Arkansas is driving the results. In our analysis of the statewide report for September, we conjectured that the 2023 dip in Arkansas unemployment—not present in the national data—might be a data anomaly that will be smoothed after the annual revisions in January. The patterns seen in the metro area data reinforce that suspicion.
Unemployment rates in Fayetteville, Jonesboro and Little Rock remain lower than the statewide average of 2.9%, while rates in Memphis, Pine Bluff and Texarkana are above the national rate of 3.8%. Fort Smith and Hot Springs occupy a space in-between the state and national rates.
Nonfarm payroll employment declined from August to September in Jonesboro, Fort Smith and Little Rock. On the other hand, the data show strong job growth in Northwest Arkansas, Hot Springs, Memphis and Texarkana. With a surge over the past three months, employment in Texarkana is now 3.1% higher than a year ago—a growth rate nearly as high as the 3.4% growth in the Fayetteville-Springdale-Rogers MSA. Jonesboro and Pine Bluff have also shown significant growth over the past 12 months, while Hot Springs, Little Rock and Memphis are essentially unchanged from a year ago.
The longer-term growth trends continue to indicate that the strongest job growth is in the northeast and northwest areas of the state, with Fayetteville-Springdale-Rogers expanding by 13% since February 2020, followed by Jonesboro with 6.7% growth. Little Rock and Hot Springs have also grown significantly relative to pre-pandemic employment levels. Pine Bluff is the only metro area in the state where employment remains below the February 2020 benchmark.