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Metro Area Employment & Unemployment – January 2016

New data on employment and unemployment in metropolitan areas were released this morning by the Bureau of Labor Statistics.  The BLS report noted that unemployment rates were “lower in January than a year earlier in 333 of the 387 metropolitan areas.”  All of the metro areas covering parts of Arkansas fell into this category.  As shown in the table below, metro unemployment rates have declined dramatically over the past 12 months, with changes ranging from -1.1 percentage points in Fort Smith to -2.3 percentage points in Pine Bluff.  Significant differences in unemployment rates around the state remain:  The unemployment rate in Northwest Arkansas stood at 3.3% in January (not seasonally adjusted) while the rate for Pine bluff was 6.4%.

Source:  Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Data from the household survey–including unemployment rates–were revised since the release of the December data.  However, the revised estimates have not yet been loaded into the BLS time series database, nor have revised seasonally adjusted estimates yet been reported.  Consequently, further detailed examination of the paths of unemployment in Arkansas metro areas will await the availability of the revised data, scheduled to be available on April 15th.

Payroll Employment
Nonfarm payroll employment dropped statewide in January, with the decline reflected in the metropolitan area data for Fayetteville, Hot Springs, Memphis and Pine Bluff.  Jonesboro and Texarkana saw employment gains for the month, while Little Rock and Fort Smith were essentially unchanged.  Compared to a year ago, employment was up in most areas of the state, with the exception of a small decline registered for Pine Bluff (which is also the only metro area in the state with net employment losses since the employment trough of February 2010).  After revisions (see below), only three metro areas presently display higher levels of employment than before the 2008-09 recession.

Source:  Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics.

The payroll data have been revised as part of the annual benchmark processing to reflect 2015 employment counts from the Quarterly Census of Employment and Wages.  Not seasonally adjusted figures were revised back to April 2014, and seasonally adjusted numbers were revised back to January 2011.  As summarized in the table below, and illustrated with the subsequent panel of charts, the revisions were in some cases quite substantial.

The revisions were generally positive, with the notable exceptions of Jonesboro and Hot Springs.  Previously reported data had shown Jonesboro to be the fastest-growing metro area in the state, expanding by 7.5% during 2014 and 2015.  That growth rate was marked down by nearly two percentage points.  Meanwhile a sharp upward revision to the data for Northwest Arkansas put the Fayetteville-Springdale-Rogers metro area into the top growth rate position (11.1%).  The other downward revision affected Hot Springs:  A 2.3% downward revision to the estimated level of employment in Hot Springs lowered reported growth from 3.7% to 1.6% for the 2014-15 period.

Source:   Bureau of Labor Statistics
Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics

The largest positive revision was reflected in a 6.3% increase in estimated employment in Pine Bluff.  Previously reported data had indicated a 6.8% contraction in employment — primarily over the first half of 2015.  The revised data suggest that employment in Pine Bluff has stabilized over the past two years.

A similar, albeit smaller, positive revision for Fort Smith changed estimated employment growth from negative to positive.  Previously published data for Texarkana* had indicated sluggish growth but the new data indicate a robust pace of employment expansion.

Source:  Bureau of Labor Statistics
Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics

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Note:  Seasonally adjusted payroll employment data for Texarkana remain temporarily unavailable from the BLS.  The data in this report were seasonally adjusted in-house at the Institute for Economic Advancement.