The Fort Smith metro area was one of two in the state to see a jobless rate decline in July compared to June and to July 2013. Unfortunately, the rate improvements do not reflect sizeable employment gains in the region.
The jobless rate in the metro area during July was 7.6%, down from 7.7% in June and well below the 8.4% in July 2012, according to figures released Wednesday (Aug. 28) by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Metro employment of 123,147 was 0.24% more than July 2012, but was 1.72 below employment in June.
Five of the eight metro areas in or connected to Arkansas had jobless rate increases in July compared to June, and six areas had jobless rate decreases compared to July 2012. Only the Fort Smith and Texarkana metro areas saw jobless rate declines compared to June and July 2012.
During July, the lowest metro jobless rate in the state was in Northwest Arkansas with 5.9% and the highest rate was 10.3% in the Pine Bluff area.
July was the 55th consecutive month the Fort Smith metro jobless rate has been at or above 7%. July food distribution by the River Valley Regional Food Bank is a side-effect of the persistent higher unemployment rate in the region.
The food bank set an all-time record of distribution in July 2013 by placing 975,091 pounds with its 217 member agencies during the month.
“The jump in tonnage represents a 55% increase over July 2012 and a 26% increase over the previous record set in July of last year. With a daily average of 31,450 pounds, the food bank easily distributed a truckload of food a day, which amounted to 795,000 meal equivalents in July,” noted a food bank statement.
There were 144 hunger-relief agencies receiving food for the Arkansas service area counties of Crawford, Franklin, Johnson, Logan, Polk, Scott, Sebastian and Yell.
"All I know is that this is the biggest amount we have ever distributed and I've been here for 11 years,” said Ted Clemons, executive director of the food bank.
Wal-Mart Stores is the largest provider of food. The Walmart stores in the Fort Smith region and the Walmart Clarksville Distribution Center are responsible for one-third of the food bank's donations, according to the food bank. Other top contributors in the month of July included Sam's Club, Kellogg's, Pepsico, Little Debbie, Harp's Food Stores and Tyson Foods. As part of the food bank's retail recovery program, Red Lobster, Longhorn Steakhouse, Pizza Hut, Olive Garden and Bob Evans Restaurant donated 4,300 pounds.
FORT SMITH METRO NUMBERS
The size of the Fort Smith regional workforce during July was 133,224, down from the 135,812 during June, and below the 134,039 during July 2012. The labor force reached a revised high of 140,253 in June 2007.
Unemployed persons in the region totaled an estimated 10,077 during July, down from the 10,502 during June, and below the 11,195 during July 2012.
The Fort Smith area manufacturing sector employed an estimated 18,600 in July, up from the 18,500 in June, and below the 19,400 during July 2012. Employment in the sector is down more than 34% from a decade ago when July 2003 manufacturing employment in the metro area stood at 28,100. Also, the annual average monthly employment in manufacturing has fallen from 28,900 in 2005 to 19,200 in 2012 – the first year the average has dropped below 20,000 since surpassing that level.
Jobs in the Trade, Transportation and Utilities sector — the region’s largest job sector — totaled 25,600 in July, down from a revised 25,800 in June, and above the 24,100 during July 2012. The revised June employment marks a new employment high in the sector. The previous high was 25,700 posted in December 2007.
Employment in the region’s tourism industry was 9,500 during July, down from 9,600 in June and above the 9,100 in July 2012. The sector reached an employment high of 9,800 in August 2008.
In Education & Health Services, employment was 17,800 during July, down from 17,900 in June and above the 16,900 during July 2012. The June employment level was a record for sector employment in the Fort Smith area. The annual average monthly employment in the sector has steadily grown since 2005 when it reached 14,000. In 2012 the average was 17,100.
In the Government sector, employment was 16,700 during July, down from 18,900 in June and above the 16,600 in July 2012.
Unemployment rates were lower in July than a year earlier in 320 of the 372 metropolitan areas, higher in 38 areas, and unchanged in 14 areas, noted the broad BLS report.
The U.S. unemployment rate in July was 7.4%, down from 8.2% from a year earlier. Arkansas’ jobless rate was 7.4% in July, up from 7.3% in June and unchanged compared to in July 2012.
Oklahoma’s jobless rate during July was 5.3%, up from 5.2% in June, and unchanged compared to July 2012. The Missouri jobless rate during July was 7.1%, compared to 6.9% in June and unchanged compared to July 2012.
ARKANSAS METRO AREAS
July 2013: 5.9%
June 2013: 5.7%
July 2012: 6.2%
July 2013: 7.6%
June 2013: 7.7%
July 2012: 8.4%
July 2013: 7.8%
June 2013: 7.7%
July 2012: 8%
July 2013: 7.3%
June 2013: 7.1%
July 2012: 7.6%
Little Rock-North Little Rock-Conway
July 2013: 6.8%
June 2013: 6.7%
July 2012: 7%
July 2013: 9.5%
June 2013: 10%
July 2012: 9.5%
July 2013: 10.3%
June 2013: 10.1%
July 2012: 10%
July 2013: 7.1%
June 2013: 7.4%
July 2012: 7.3%
FORT SMITH METRO AREA HISTORY
Past annual average unemployment rates