New statistics on employment and unemployment in Arkansas’ metro areas shows continuing declines in unemployment rates. However, concerns about statewide labor force participation are also apparent in the metro area data. As shown in the table below, not-seasonally adjusted unemployment rates have fallen sharply over the past 12 months. The declines range from -1.2% in Fayetteville, Little Rock and Texarkana to -1.9% in Pine Bluff. The most recent monthly changes show slight upticks. However, the change in unemployment from May to June is subject to predictable seasonal increases. After adjusting for recurring seasonal effects, the seasonally adjusted data show that the unemployment rate declined in June for every metro area except Memphis.
In the statewide data for June, we noted that the unemployment rate was declining against a backdrop of a declining labor force — particularly over the past three months. As shown in the following chart, the declining labor force from March through June is distinctive for most of the state’s metro areas as well. Over the past three months, we see sharp labor force participation falling in every metro area except Memphis. In some cases (Little Rock, Fort Smith, and Pine Bluff), the downward trend has been ongoing throughout 2014. Relative to January 2013, the only metro area that has experienced a net increase in its labor force is Jonesboro.
Information from the survey of employers shows one-month declines in employment for five of Arkansas’ metro areas. Compared to a year ago, however, only Fort Smith has seen a decrease. Although net employment has been increasing since February 2010, the cumulative percentage increase for the state has only been 3.1%, and employment in Fort Smith, Pine Bluff and Texarkana has declined, on net, over that period. Compared to pre-recession employment levels, only Fayetteville and Jonesboro have moved into positive territory.