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Fort Smith area jobless rate falls to 7.4% in February

Editor’s note: This story is a component of The Compass Report. The quarterly Compass Report is managed by The City Wire and presented by Fort Smith-based Benefit Bank. Other supporting sponsors of The Compass Report are Cox Communications and the Fort Smith Regional Chamber of Commerce.

The Fort Smith regional metro jobless rate fell to 7.4% in February, but the size of the regional workforce and number of employed trailed that of February 2013. The February jobless figure also marked 62 consecutive months the rate has been at or above 7%.

Metro employment of 119,041 was better than the 117,664 in January, and was down slightly from the 119,799 in February 2013, according to figures released by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Seven of the eight metro areas in or connected to Arkansas had a jobless rate decline in February compared to January, with only the Memphis-West Memphis area unchanged at 8.4%. Two areas had jobless rate increases (Pine Bluff and Texarkana, Ark.-Texas) compared to February 2013, and the remainder were lower than their respective February 2013 rate. For perspective, 90.8% of the 372 U.S. metro areas had year-over-year-over-year jobless rate declines in February, while 87.5% of Arkansas’ eight metro areas posted year-over-year declines.

During February, the lowest metro jobless rate in the state was 5.6% in Northwest Arkansas and the highest rate was 10.2% in the Pine Bluff area.

FORT SMITH METRO NUMBERS
The size of the Fort Smith regional workforce during January was 128,558, up from 127,557 during January, and down from the 130,739 during February 2013. The labor force reached a revised high of 140,253 in June 2007.

Unemployed persons in the region totaled an estimated 9,5,17 during February, down from the 9,893 during January, and more than 13.5% below the 10,940 during February 2013.

The Fort Smith area manufacturing sector employed an estimated 18,200 in February, unchanged compared to January, and above the 18,100 during February 2013. Sector employment is down almost 36% from a decade ago when February 2004 manufacturing employment in the metro area stood at 28,400. Also, the annual average monthly employment in manufacturing has fallen from 28,900 in 2005, 19,200 in 2012, and to 18,300 in 2013.

Jobs in the Trade, Transportation and Utilities sector — the region’s largest job sector —  totaled 24,000 in February, down from the 24,100 in January, and above the 23,400 during February 2013. Employment in the sector reached a high of 25,700 in December 2007.

Employment in the region’s tourism industry was 9,000 during February, down from 9,100 in January and above the 8,900 in February 2013. The sector reached an employment high of 9,800 in August 2008.

In Education & Health Services, employment was 16,400 during February, unchanged from January and below the 16,900 during February 2013. Annual average monthly employment in the sector has steadily grown since 2005 when it reached 14,000. In 2012 the average was 17,000, but fell slightly to 16,800 in 2013. Employment in the sector reached a record 17,300 in October 2012.

In the Government sector, employment was 19,400 during February, up from 18,800 in January and unchanged compared to February 2013.

NATIONAL NUMBERS
Unemployment rates were lower in January than a year earlier in 338 of the 372 metropolitan areas, higher in 25 areas, and unchanged in nine areas, noted the broad BLS report.

The U.S. unemployment rate in February was 6.7%, down from 7.7% from a year earlier. Arkansas’ jobless rate was 7.1% in February, down from 7.3% in January and down from 7.5% in February 2013.

Oklahoma’s jobless rate during February was 5%, down from 5.2% in January, and down compared to 5.3% in February 2013. The Missouri jobless rate during February was 6.4%, up from 6% in January but better than the 6.7% in February 2013.

ARKANSAS METRO AREAS
Fayetteville-Springdale-Rogers
February 2014: 5.6%
January 2014: 5.9%
February 2013: 5.8%

Fort Smith
February 2014: 7.4%
January 2014: 7.8%
February 2013: 8.4%

Hot Springs
February 2014: 7.7%
January 2014: 8.1%
February 2013: 8.2%

Jonesboro
February 2014: 7.1%
January 2014: 7.8%
February 2013: 7.3%

Little Rock-North Little Rock-Conway
February 2014: 6.7%
January 2014: 7.1%
February 2013: 7%

Memphis-West Memphis
February 2014: 8.4%
January 2014: 8.4%
February 2013: 9.3%

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Pine Bluff
February 2014: 10.2%
January 2014: 10.8%
February 2013: 10.1%

Texarkana
February 2014: 7.2%
January 2014: 7.4%
February 2013: 6.9%

FORT SMITH METRO AREA HISTORY
Past annual average unemployment rates
2012: 7.7%
2011: 8.3%
2010: 8.2%
2009: 7.9%
2008: 4.8%
2007: 5.3%
2006: 4.9%
2005: 4.5%
2004: 5.2%
2003: 5.5%
2002: 5%
2001: 4.2%
2000: 3.7%

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