The Arkansas jobless rate fell to its lowest level in the state’s history in March, declining two percentage points from last’s month’s previous hallmark while adding more than 7,000 new workers.
Labor force data, produced by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics and released Friday by the Arkansas Department of Workforce Services, shows Arkansas’ seasonally adjusted unemployment rate now at a tidy 4% compared to 4.2% in February and 5.5% a year ago.
Arkansas’ civilian labor force rose by 7,262 in March, a result of 9,569 more employed and 2,307 fewer unemployed Arkansans. By comparison, the U.S. jobless rate increased one-tenth of a percentage point to 5% in March.
“Arkansas’ unemployment rate decreased in March, as employment gains increased the size of the civilian labor force,” said Arkansas BLS Program Operations Manager Susan Price. “The number of employed rose 9,569, reaching employment levels not seen since 2008.”
With 1,358,908 in Arkansas now receiving paychecks, the state’s civilian labor force has added nearly 26,000 workers to employer payrolls in 2016 and nearly 34,396 from a year ago, up 2.6% from 1.324 million in March 2015. The peak for Arkansas’ labor force was 1.376 million in August 2008.
Earlier this month, the nation’s economy remained steady as 215,000 new jobs were added to payrolls. Total nonfarm payroll employment rose by 151,000 and 242,000 in January and February, respectively, and the unemployment rate fell one percentage points as the nation’s labor force saw gains primarily in retail, healthcare and construction, BLS data shows. The mining and manufacturing sectors continued to decline, losing a total of nearly 40,000 jobs in March.
In February, Arkansas’ touched its lowest-ever seasonally adjusted unemployment rate at 4.2%, which was touched for several consecutive months in the 2000. The last time the state’s jobless rate fell to this level was in December 2000, DWS officials said. The preliminary average monthly jobless rate in Arkansas during 2015 is 5.4%. Arkansas’ average jobless rate for 2014 was 6.1%, down 1.3% percentage points from the 7.4% average in 2013.
The closely-watched nonfarm employment in Arkansas increased 4,600 in March to total 1,223,900. Employment gains were posted in six major industry sectors, while declines occurred in four sectors.
The nonfarm category does not include farm workers, private household employees, non-profit employees and “general government” employees. Investopedia estimates that the nonfarm category represents about 80% of the total workforce that contributes to national GDP. The missing data on farm workers in Arkansas is significant, given that Federal Reserve data for the Eighth District shows that much of the region’s agriculture and farming sector is in a downturn because of falling commodity prices.
Arkansas sectors leading the year-over-year gains were professional business services with 3,300 new jobs, and leisure and hospitality added 1,200 positions due to seasonal hiring. Government and education and health sectors, which are now the third and fourth-largest nonfarm sectors, also saw positive gains between months.
In the losing column, manufacturing jobs dropped by 2,500 as more than 3,200 workers in the durable goods sector went to the unemployment line. The factory job losses were partially offset by 700 new positions in nondurable goods manufacturing, which typical produce consumable “soft goods” like food, clothing, toothpaste and washing powder.
In the Trade, Transportation and Utilities sector – Arkansas’ largest job sector – employment fell to a to an estimated 254,800 workers in the labor pool, compared to 255,100 in February, but well ahead of 246,700 a year ago.
The state’s fast-growing Education and Health Services sector climbed by 800 to 179,900 in March. That compares with 179,100 in February and a strong 6,400 better than a year ago. This sector has seen steady growth in the past decade, with employment in the sector up nearly more than 23% since November 2005.
Manufacturing jobs in Arkansas declined for the third consecutive month after a surprising rebound in December as the number of blue-collar workers fell to 152,700, down 3.2% from year ago levels of 155,200. Peak employment in the sector was 247,300 in February 1995.
Government hiring continued to climb as 700 new workers were hired as local, state or federal employees in March. There are now 217,000 government workers on state payrolls, now the second-largest nonfarm sector behind Trade, Transportation and Utilities. A year ago, there were 216,400 government jobs in Arkansas.
The construction sector employed an estimated 47,500 in March, down slightly from 47,700 in February and well above the 46,000 level in the same period of 2015. The sector is well off the employment high of 57,600 reached in March 2007.
Arkansas’ growing tourism sector (leisure & hospitality) employed 115,100 in March, up 7.2% from a year ago as the national summer driving season gets underway. Last year, there were 107,900 workers in the state’s tourism industry.