December jobless rate up to 7.7% in Arkansas

It’s not the way to end a year, economically speaking.

Arkansas’ unemployment rate rose to 7.7% in December, a preliminary figure that will be the highest monthly rate of the year if it stands.

The rate increases from 7.4% in November, with the previous monthly highest jobless rate being 7.6% in October. Also, December’s jobless rate is a full two percentage points higher than the December 2008 rate, according to figures from the U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Also, Friday’s (Jan. 22) rate report showed that the number of unemployed Arkansans reached a record high level of 105,400.

“Arkansas businesses hired fewer additional workers during the 2009 holiday season. This decrease in hiring, as compared to previous historical trends, partly contributed to the increase in our seasonally adjusted unemployment rate,” DWS Communications Director Kimberly Friedman said in a statement.

Gov. Mike Beebe said Friday he was disappointed in the December jobless report but remains cautiously optimistic Arkansas’ job picture will improve in 2010. And although Beebe has announced two budget cuts related to lower than expected state revenues, he does not believe the “conventional wisdom” that Arkansas will lag the country in recovering from the national recession.

“I’m not buying that right now,” Beebe told The City Wire, adding that recent reports of improved Arkansas home sales in the fourth quarter of 2009 and “anecdotal evidence” of existing and planned job growth provide him reason for optimism.

The U.S. jobless rate was 10% in December, unchanged from November and lower than the recent high of 10.1% in October.

Fort Smith metro area unemployment figures for December are set for a Feb. 2 release. The Fort Smith metro unemployment rate in November moderated to 7.7% from a 7.8% October rate.

YEAR-OVER-YEAR
• Total nonfarm jobs in Arkansas stood at 1.172 million in December, down 1.7% from the 1.192 million in December 2009.

• The number of unemployed was an estimated 105,408 in December, up a staggering 35.7% compared to the 77,662 unemployed in December 2008.

• The largest drop occurred in manufacturing, with 14,100 manufacturing jobs lost between December 2008 and December 2009. The 7.9% drop in manufacturing jobs was higher than the 5.1% drop between 2007 and 2008, and more than double the 3.8% drop between 2006 and 2007.

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• A ray of hope, however, is that the state had 162,800 manufacturing jobs in December, up 1,000 jobs over November 2009.

• The number of government jobs grew in 2009, with roughly 221,100 employed in the sector during December, up 2.2% over December 2008.

• Another sector that saw job gains in 2009 was education and health services. The sector employed 170,000 in December, up 6.25% over December 2008.

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