Fort Smith area jobless rate falls to 6.9% in March

Editor’s note: This story is a component of The Compass Report. The quarterly Compass Report is managed by The City Wire. Supporting sponsors of The Compass Report are Cox Communications and the Fort Smith Regional Chamber of Commerce.

The good news is that the Fort Smith metro jobless rate during March was 6.9%, the first time in 62 consecutive months the rate has been below 7%. The not-so-good news is that the rate decline is not a product of sizeable gains in the workforce or the number of employed.

In fact, the reported metro labor force has shrunk more than 8% compared to the high point hit in June 2007.

A 6.9% metro jobless rate was better than the 7.4% in February and much better than the 8.1% in March 2013. A drop in the reported number of unemployed was the primary cause for the March jobless rate decline to 6.9%.

Fort Smith metro employment of 119,565 was slightly better than the 119,155 in February, and almost flat compared to the 119,346 in March 2013, according to figures released by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

All of the eight metro areas in or connected to Arkansas had a jobless rate decline in March compared to February, and had jobless rate declines compared to March 2013. During March, the lowest metro jobless rate in the state was 5.4% in Northwest Arkansas and the highest rate was 9.4% in the Pine Bluff area.

FORT SMITH METRO NUMBERS
The size of the Fort Smith regional workforce during March was 128,463, down from 128,695 during February, and down from the 129,880 during March 2013. The labor force reached a revised high of 140,253 in June 2007.

Unemployed persons in the region totaled an estimated 8,898 during March, down from the 9,540 during February, and well below the 10,534 during March 2013.

The Fort Smith area manufacturing sector employed an estimated 18,200 in March, unchanged compared to February, and unchanged compared to March 2013. Sector employment is down almost 36% from a decade ago when March 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 24,100 in March, up from the 24,000 in February, and above the 23,600 during March 2013. Employment in the sector reached a high of 25,700 in December 2007.

Employment in the region’s tourism industry was 9,300 during March, up from 9,000 in February and above the 9,000 in March 2013. The sector reached an employment high of 9,800 in August 2008.

In Education & Health Services, employment was 16,500 during March, up from 16,400 in February and below the 17,000 during March 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 19,600 during March, up from 19,400 in February and up from 19,400 in March 2013.

NATIONAL NUMBERS
Unemployment rates were lower in February than a year earlier in 333 of the 372 metropolitan areas, higher in 30 areas, and unchanged in nine areas, noted the broad BLS report.

The U.S. unemployment rate in March was 6.7%, down from 7.5% from a year earlier. Arkansas’ jobless rate was 6.9% in March, down from 7.1% in February and down from 7.4% in March 2013.

Oklahoma’s jobless rate during March was 4.9%, down from 5% in February, and down compared to 5.2% in March 2013. The Missouri jobless rate during March was 6.7%, up from 6.4% in February and up from the 6.6% in March 2013.

ARKANSAS METRO AREAS
Fayetteville-Springdale-Rogers
March 2014: 5.4%
February 2014: 5.6%
March 2013: 5.7%

Fort Smith
March 2014: 6.9%
February 2014: 7.6%
March 2013: 8.1%

Hot Springs
March 2014: 7.1%
February 2014: 7.7%
March 2013: 7.8%

Jonesboro
March 2014: 6.6%
February 2014: 7.1%
March 2013: 7.1%

Little Rock-North Little Rock-Conway
March 2014: 6.3%
February 2014: 6.7%
March 2013: 6.8%

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Memphis-West Memphis
March 2014: 8.2%
February 2014: 8.4%
March 2013: 9.4%

Pine Bluff
March 2014: 9.4%
February 2014: 10.1%
March 2013: 9.8%

Texarkana
March 2014: 6.5%
February 2014: 7.3%
March 2013: 7%

FORT SMITH METRO AREA HISTORY
Past annual average unemployment rates
2013: 8%
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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