A forum for information and analysis on the Arkansas economy

Metro Area Employment and Unemployment – August 2023

Unemployment rates in Arkansas metropolitan areas ticked slightly higher in August, following the statewide uptick of 0.1 percentage points to 2.7%.  Rates in Hot Springs, Jonesboro, Little Rock and Pint Bluff matched the statewide increase and Fort Smith increased by 0.2 percentage points. Rates in Northwest Arkansas, Memphis and Texarkana were unchanged for the month.

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

After declining through the first half of 2023, the upticks in August (and in July for Fort Smith and Memphis), leave unemployment rates below year-ago readings in all metro areas, with the year-over-year declines ranging from 1.4 percentage points in Pine Bluff to 0.2 percentage points in Memphis.

As of August, unemployment rates were lower than the statewide average in the Fayetteville-Springdale-Rogers, Jonesboro and Little Rock-North Little Rock-Conway metro areas. Rates in Fort Smith and Hot Springs are above the statewide average, but below the national unemployment rate. In Memphis, Pine Bluff, and Texarkana, unemployment rates are near the national reading.

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

Payroll Employment
Changes in Nonfarm payroll employment were mixed in August. Payrolls expanded by 0.8% in Northwest Arkansas, with Fort Smith, Jonesboro and Pine Bluff also seeing notable growth. Employment was down in Hot Springs, Little Rock, Memphis and Texarkana.

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

Payroll growth over the past year has been very strong in Northwest Arkansas, Jonesboro, and Texarkana. Hot Springs and Memphis have experienced slight declines, while employment in Little Rock is unchanged relative to August 2022.  With the exceptions of Pine Bluff and Texarkana, employment is generally much higher now than it was before the onset of the COVID-19 Pandemic.

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

 

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Arkansas Employment & Unemployment – August 2023

Arkansas unemployment rate increased slightly in August, rising by 0.1 percentage points to 2.7%. The national unemployment rate increased by 0.3 percentage points to 3.8% in August. The increases, particularly for the state, are not yet indicating a change in the underlying trends: with the unemployment rate still lower than 3%, a one-month uptick should not be of great concern.

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics

The decline in the unemployment rate below 3% in Arkansas has been driven by a sharp drop in the number of unemployed since late 2022. The uptick in the August unemployment rate was similarly associated with an uptick in the number of unemployed. Meanwhile, household employment and the labor force have been expanding steadily throughout 2023.

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, Local Area Unemployment Statistics (LAUS)

The sharp decline in the number of employed in recent months is remarkable. When the time comes for annual data revisions at the beginning of next year, we would not be surprised to see the declining unemployment to be largely revised away, along with the sub-3% readings on the unemployment rate. The figure below compares indexes of the number of unemployed for Arkansas and the U.S.  In the second half of 2022 both are near 100, indicating roughly the same number of unemployed as in 2019. Since the start of 2023, the Arkansas index dropped by nearly 25% before bouncing up slightly in August. Although it took place over a number of months, this is the type of sharp deviation that is often affected by the annual data revisions.  Nevertheless, we wouldn’t expect any revisions to change the general trajectory of sustained very-low unemployment.

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics

Payroll Employment
Nonfarm payroll employment expanded by 4,200 in August (seasonally adjusted), the fifth consecutive monthly increase.  Over the past twelve months, payrolls have expanded by 26,700 representing a 2.0% growth rate that matches the national average. Relative to February 2020, Arkansas employment is up by 5.7%, compared to 2.7% for the U.S.

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

The August increase in payroll employment was mostly concentrated in the service-providing sectors.  Construction employment continued to expand, but manufacturing (especially durable goods) was down for the month.  Employment in retail trade dropped significantly, and financial services employment was down slightly. Other service-providing sectors saw increases—particularly Leisure and Hospitality Services, which continues to provide a significant share of job growth over the past year.

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

JOLTS Data for July
This was one of the unusual months when the state-level data for Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey (JOLTS) are released on the same day as the state employment report (albeit with a one-month data lag). Although both the state and national national data show some signs of labor markets softening, conditions in Arkansas appear to remain strong.  For example, the Quits Rate—which has been taken as an indicator of the “great resignation”—has been trending downward in 2023, but the Arkansas rate remains well-above the national rate.

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey (JOLTS)

One popular measure of the tightness of labor markets is the number of job openings per unemployed person. As shown in the chart below, the national ratio has trended downward from 2.0 in early 2022 to only 1.5 in July. Arkansas, on the other hand, has seen a surge in 2023, reaching a peak of 2.7 job openings per unemployed person in May.  The July reading is 2.3.

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey (JOLTS)

The Job-openings/Unemployed ratio might overstate the worker shortage for Arkansas. The measure depends not only on the number of job openings, but also on the number of unemployed. As suggested above, the extremely low reported number of unemployed in Arkansas is somewhat suspect, so the surge in the Job Openings ratio might be overstated.  To see this, consider a more general measure, the Job Openings Rate (which is expressed as a fraction of total employment plus job openings). By this measure, job openings in Arkansas remain plentiful in Arkansas, but not by as much as when the number of unemployed is used as a denominator.

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey (JOLTS)

Although the data for both the U.S. and Arkansas show some signs of a softening labor market conditions, there are no unexpected or surprising developments that suggest more serious weakening in the near future.

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Seasonally adjusted data for Arkansas nonfarm payroll employment, reported in a format consistent with the monthly news release from the Arkansas Division of Workforce Services, can be found here: Table-Seasonally Adjusted NFPE. 

 

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Arkansas Employment and Unemployment – July 2023

The latest state-level report on employment and unemployment shows that recent trends in Arkansas labor markets continue. Although the unemployment rate was unchanged at 2.6% the number of unemployed declined for the ninth consecutive month, reaching a new all-time low.  Payroll employment growth slowed slightly on a month-to-month basis, but continues to trend higher at a healthy rate.

Recent declines in the number of unemployed have been the primary force driving the unemployment rate lower, but labor force participation and employment are also on rising trends.

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, Local Area Unemployment Statistics (LAUS)

Payroll Employment 
Arkansas Nonfarm payroll employment increased by 800 jobs in July, a slightly slower pace than in recent months, but an increase nonetheless (seasonally adjusted data). Professional & Business Services led the way, increasing by 900. Only the Administrative & Support Services sub-component of that sector was down from the previous month. Leisure & Hospitality services continued on a strong post-covid recovery path (+400). Several sectors were down slightly, including Construction, Manufacturing (Nondurables), Retail Trade, and Transportation & Utilities.  Among the other service sectors, both Health and Education components were slightly lower than in June.

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

Compared to a year ago, payroll employment is up by 27,600 jobs, or about 2.1% — a growth rate consistent with the most robust of economic expansions, and that is consistent with the national growth rate of 2.2%.

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

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Seasonally adjusted data for Arkansas nonfarm payroll employment, reported in a format consistent with the monthly news release from the Arkansas Division of Workforce Services, can be found here: Table-Seasonally Adjusted NFPE. 

 

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Arkansas Employment and Unemployment – June 2023

The latest state employment report shows another month of solid growth. The unemployment rate dropped to a new all-time record of 2.6%—a new record low for the series (again). The national unemployment rate also declined in June, leaving Arkansas’ unemployment rate a full percentage point lower than the U.S. average.

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics

The unemployment rate is primarily being driven downward by historic low figures for the number of unemployed.  After nine months of consecutive declines, the number of unemployed Arkansans dropped to less than 36,000 in June. Prior to the Covid contraction, that measure had never before fallen below 46,000.  Meanwhile, household employment continues to climb: after nine consecutive months of growth, employment has increased by over 21,000 (1.6%).  As a result, labor force participation also continues to climb.

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, Local Area Unemployment Statistics (LAUS)

Payroll Employment
Data from the payroll survey also showed ongoing strong employment growth. Nonfarm payroll employment expanded by 1,900 in June (seasonally adjusted data). Compared to a  year earlier, payroll employment was up by 36,700 jobs (2.8%).

The increase from May to June included an increase in employment in Education & Health Services of 3,500 jobs, with most of the gains coming from Health Care and Social Assistance. At the other end of the spectrum, employment in Professional and Business Services was down by 2,600 jobs, with declines in each of the subcomponents of that super-sector.  Changes in other service-providing sectors were mixed.  In goods-producing sectors, we saw gains in Construction and Durable-goods manufacturing.

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

Compared to June 2022, payroll employment is up 36,700, with Education & Health Services and Leisure & Hospitality Services accounting for most of that growth. Those were two of the sectors hardest-hit with employment losses during the Covid contraction.

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Seasonally adjusted data for Arkansas nonfarm payroll employment, reported in a format consistent with the monthly news release from the Arkansas Division of Workforce Services, can be found here: Table-Seasonally Adjusted NFPE. 

 

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Arkansas Personal Income and GDP

New reports on personal income and GDP for the first quarter show signs of relative weakening of the Arkansas economy.

Personal income increased at a 3.2% annual rate in the first quarter, well below the national growth rate of 5.1%. (Personal income figures are not adjusted for inflation.) Arkansas growth rate ranked among the lowest in the nation, ranking 45th among the 50 states.  The report from the Bureau of Economic Analysis showed reported that “Nationally, Nationally, earnings, property income (dividends, interest, and rent), and transfer receipts all contributed to the increase in personal income.”  However, the growth rate of net earnings was only 0.1% in Arkansas, the lowest growth rate in the nation.

Source: Bureau of Economic Analysis

Among the components of earnings, wages and salaries increased at a 4.6% rate, outpacing the nationwide growth rate of 2.4%. However, proprietors’ income declined at an annualized rate of 21.8%.

Source: Bureau of Economic Analysis

The decline in proprietors’ income was, in turn, entirely attributable to farm proprietors’ income. In fact, total farm income declined at a rate of 54.1%. Rising farm income had been a contributing factor to higher growth rates in 2022, so although the decline in the first quarter is disappointing, farm income remains a positive contribution to total earnings.

Source: Bureau of Economic Analysis

Quarterly growth rates of personal income can vary significantly without necessarily indicating a change in trend. If we consider the longer-term performance of income growth in Arkansas, the first-quarter results are disappointing but they do not suggest an imminent downturn. In fact, the growth rate of total personal income over the past four quarters has been 6.2% in Arkansas and 5.1% for the U.S.

Source: Bureau of Economic Analysis

State GDP
Figures for Arkansas GDP showed similar relative weakness. Real GDP growth in the first quarter came in at an annualized growth rate of only 0.2%, compared to a nationwide growth rate of 2.0% (inflation-adjusted).  Arkansas’ growth rate was among the lowest in the nation, with only Rhode Island showing slower growth (0.1%).

Source: Bureau of Economic Analysis

As we saw in the case of personal income, much of the first quarter slowdown in GDP was attributable to farm sector. In contrast to a positive contribution to the national growth rate, the contribution of Agriculture, forestry, fishing, and hunting was to subtract 0.6% from GDP growth in Arkansas. Other factors subtracting from growth included Manufacturing, Finance and insurance, and Real estate.  In contrast, significant positive contributions were recorded for Construction, Wholesale and Retail trade, as well as Accommodation and food services.

Source: Bureau of Economic Analysis

As is the case for personal income, the first quarter performance of Arkansas GDP is disappointing, but does not necessarily indicate a significant change in trend. Over the longer term, Arkansas growth has been relatively strong. Since the fourth quarter of 2019, cumulative growth has totaled 7.8% in Arkansas, compared to 5.6% for the U.S.

Source: Bureau of Economic Analysis

The next release of GDP and Personal Income data will be in September, which will include annual revisions to the data.

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Arkansas Employment & Unemployment – May 2023

Data for May show that Arkansas labor markets continue their robust expansion. The Arkansas unemployment rate declined 0.1 percentage point to 2.7% in May—a new series low.  (Arkansas was one of seven states to have the lowest unemployment rate on record in May.)  It had been previously reported that the national unemployment rate ticked up to 3.7% in May, so Arkansas’ rate is now a full percentage point below the national average.

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics

The data underlying the unemployment rate are remarkable as well: The number of unemployed declined by 1,926, setting a new record-low for that series. The number employed rose 4,257 and the labor force expanded by 2,331. Both figures represent series highs (all series date back to 1976). In the past four months, the number unemployed has fallen by 9,509, while the number employed is up 16,738.

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, Local Area Unemployment Statistics (LAUS)

Payroll Employment
Nonfarm payroll employment expanded by 5,900 jobs in May (seasonally adjusted).  Compared to a year earlier, payroll employment is up 36,300 (about 2.7%).  Monthly increases were notable in several sectors, particularly in the service-providing sectors. Professional & Business Services, Education & Health Services, and Leisure & Hospitality services all expanded significantly. On the goods-producing side, Construction and Manufacturing showed monthly gains as well. The only weak areas in employment growth were small declines in Wholesale Trade, Retail Trade, Transportation & Utilities, and Information services.

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

Most sectors have expanded over the past twelve months, with the exception of Retail Trade and Information Services which are down slightly from their peaks. Year-over-year gains are particularly prominent in Leisure & Hospitality services, Education & Health Services, and Construction.

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

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Seasonally adjusted data for Arkansas nonfarm payroll employment, reported in a format consistent with the monthly news release from the Arkansas Division of Workforce Services, can be found here: Table-Seasonally Adjusted NFPE. 

 

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Metro Area Employment and Unemployment – April 2023

Arkansas’ unemployment rate fell to a new all-time low of 2.9% in April. Unemployment rates in the state’s metropolitan areas generally followed suit. Using the Smoothed Seasonally-Adjusted Metropolitan Area Estimates (which date back to January 1990), new series lows were recorded in Northwest Arkansas, Fort Smith, Little Rock and Pine Bluff. Jonesboro tied a record established in the data for March, and Hot Springs matched a record established in early (pre-pandemic) 2020. Texarkana’s April unemployment rate was only 0.1 percentage points higher than its record low from early 2020. Memphis’ unemployment rate was 0.4 percentage points higher than the series low in 1999.

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

Recent declines have been remarkable not only for their extent, but also their pace.  Over the past six months, unemployment rates have dropped by magnitudes ranging from 0.3 percentage points (Fayetteville and Memphis) to 1.1 percentage points (Pine Bluff).

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

Payroll Employment
Changes in nonfarm payroll employment were mixed in April. Robust increases were recorded for Fayetteville, Fort Smith and Little Rock (with a proportionately smaller increase in Jonesboro).  In Hot Springs, Memphis, and Pine Bluff employment contracted (to varying degrees).  Texarkana was unchanged for the month.

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

Longer-term growth measures are consistent with a clear difference in growth trends. Northwest Arkansas is the most rapidly expanding metro-area job market, with Jonesboro and Fort Smith also showing strong growth. Employment in Hot Springs continues to rebound from the disproportionate hit it took during the Covid-contraction. Little Rock, Memphis, Pine Bluff and Texarkana are showing more modest, but positive, growth trends. Only Pine Bluff and Texarkana remain below pre-pandemic employment levels.

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Arkansas Employment and Unemployment – April 2023

April was another record-setting month for Arkansas labor markets. The unemployment rate dropped 0.2 percentage points to 2.8%—the lowest unemployment rate on record.  Arkansas was one of ten states seeing new record-low unemployment rates. The national unemployment rate was previously reported to have fallen 0.1 percentage points to 3.4% in April.

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics

Underlying the drop in the unemployment rate was a sharp increase in the number of employed (+4,831) and a decline in the number of unemployed (-1,886). On net, the labor force expanded by 2,945. These changes represent a continuation of trends we’ve seen emerging since mid-2022, with something of an acceleration over the first months of 2023. In the most recent six months alone, household employment has increase by nearly 16,000, while the number of unemployed workers has declined by 9,000.

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, Local Area Unemployment Statistics (LAUS)

Payroll Employment
Nonfarm payroll employment increased by 3,700 in April (seasonally adjusted data). Compared to a year earlier, employment has increased by 33,600, or about 2.5%.  Prominent in the March-to-April expansion were increases in Construction Employment (+1,100) and Leisure & Hospitality Services (+2,900). Sectors declining in April included Manufacturing, Retail Trade, and Professional & Business Services. In the later, the declines were mostly in the Administrative & Support Services component.

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

Over the past 12 months, we’ve seen growth in nearly every sector. One prominent exception is Retail Trade, which peaked early in 2022 but has roughly plateaued in recent months. Other sectors continue to expand robustly, including Leisure & Hospitality, Education & Health, Wholesale Trade, and Construction.

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Seasonally adjusted data for Arkansas nonfarm payroll employment, reported in a format consistent with the monthly news release from the Arkansas Division of Workforce Services, can be found here: Table-Seasonally Adjusted NFPE. 

 

 

 

 

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Metro Area Employment and Unemployment – March 2023

New data for metro area employment and unemployment came out this week, including newly revised data from the household survey.  The revisions had minor effects on unemployment rates. As shown in the first two columns of the table below, unemployment rates were revised lower in all of Arkansas’ metro areas except for Texarkana (which was unchanged), with revisions ranging in size from 0.1 percentage points to 0.6 percentage points in Pine Bluff.

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

Over the first three months of 2023, unemployment rates have trended lower across the state. As of March, the unemployment rate was less than 3.0% (the statewide average) in four metro areas, with Northwest Arkansas registering a rate of only 2.1%. The largest declines in unemployment were recorded for Pine Bluff, where the unemployment rate has declined by 0.8 percent from the revised December rate of 5.0%.

Although the revisions to unemployment rates were generally minor, changes to the underlying data were, in some cases, substantial. The figures below illustrate the nature of the revisions for the numbers of employed in each metro area. Generally speaking, employment levels were revised lower for the two years leading up to the Covid-19 pandemic, with post-pandemic growth revised higher. Exceptions to this pattern include Memphis, Pine Bluff, and Texarkana, which now show slower post-Covid employment growth than originally estimated.

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

Payroll Employment
Nonfarm payroll employment showed mixed changes for the month of March. Payrolls expanded in Northwest Arkansas, Hot Springs, Jonesboro and Pine Bluff.  Declines were registered for Fort Smith, Little Rock and Memphis. Texarkana was unchanged.

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

Employment in the Fayetteville-Springdale-Rogers metro area continues to expand at over twice the statewide pace, increasing by 5.25 over the past 12 months and by 11.0% since the pre-pandemic peak of February 2020. Jonesboro and Fort Smith continue to maintain a healthy growth rates and Hot Springs has rebounded sharply from its particularly large downturn in 2020. Pine Bluff and Texarkana continue to lag behind the pace of the rest of the state, with both metro areas still showing net job losses relative to February 2020.

 

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Arkansas Employment and Unemployment – March 2023

It has been widely anticipated that the recent increases in interest rates would result in weaker labor markets. In Arkansas, at least, there is little sign of deteriorating conditions—quite the opposite, in fact. Today’s report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics shows a decline in the unemployment rate from 3.2% in February to 3.0% in March. Arkansas was one of seven states that set new record lows for unemployment (since the series began in 1976). The national unemployment rate was previously reported to have declined by 0.1 percent to 3.5% in March.

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics

The decline in Arkansas’ unemployment rate was underpinned by a sharp decline in the number of unemployed (-2,833) and an increase in the number employed (+4,661).  Consequently, the labor force (the denominator of the unemployment rate) increased by 1,828.

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, Local Area Unemployment Statistics (LAUS)

Payroll Employment
Nonfarm payroll employment increased by 400 jobs from February to March (seasonally adjusted). Compared to March 2022, employment has increased by 32,400 (about 2.5%).  Since the previous peak in February 2020, payroll employment has expanded by 58,700 jobs or 4.6%. In comparison, total U.S. payroll employment has shown a net increase of 2.1% over the same period.

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

A breakdown of employment growth by sector shows that the March increase included expansions in Construction, Retail Trade, and Other Services. Sectors with employment declines included Wholesale Trade, Transportation & Utilities, and Professional & Business Services (entirely in the Administrative & Support Services category).

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

Year-over-year employment gains are especially prominent in service-providing sectors—particularly in Education & Health Services and Leisure & Hospitality services (which were among the hardest-hit sectors during the Covid contraction).  Other prominent gains include Construction; Wholesale Trade; and Transportation & Utilities.

JOLTS Data from February
Earlier this week, new state-level data from the Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey (JOLTS) were released. The data for Arkansas reinforce the view that the state’s labor markets remain robust.  For example, while there has been some indication of a lower ratio of job openings to unemployed workers in the nationwide data, the ratio has recently increased in Arkansas and was at 2.4 in February (the U.S. ratio was 1.7 in February).

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey (JOLTS)

Similarly, the dynamism of Arkansas’ labor markets remains historically robust.  The Quit Rate (voluntary job-separations per number of employed) has been trending downward nationwide, but remains well above 3% in Arkansas, with increases in recent months. Sometimes referred to as the “great resignation,” this statistic suggests that workers continue to perceive opportunities for job-changes.

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey (JOLTS)

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Seasonally adjusted data for Arkansas nonfarm payroll employment, reported in a format consistent with the monthly news release from the Arkansas Division of Workforce Services, can be found here: Table-Seasonally Adjusted NFPE. 

 

 

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