Northwest Arkansas metro jobless rate dips to 4.5% in April

Although the Northwest Arkansas jobless rate fell almost a percentage point to 4.5% in April, the region’s workforce shrank and there was not a big jump in the number of employed compared to March or April 2013.

The April rate of 4.5% was below the 5.4% in March and below the 5.3% in April 2013. Metro employment of 222,520 was up slightly from the 222,465 in March, and up over the 222,312 in April 2013, according to figures released by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. The April numbers are subject to revision.

April marked the ninth consecutive month that the NWA metro jobless rate has been below 6%. The metro area is the only one in Arkansas to post a rate below 5%.

The size of the Northwest Arkansas regional workforce during April was estimated at 233,113, down from the 235,061 during March, and below the 234,848 during April 2013. June 2013 was the first month the region’s workforce topped 240,000. The average annual monthly labor size was 234,412 in 2013, 234,792 during 2012, 229,950 during 2011 and 226,593 during 2010.

All of the eight metro areas in or connected to Arkansas had a jobless rate decline in April compared to March, and also had jobless rate declines compared to April 2013. However, all metro areas except Jonesboro had a workforce and/or employment level decline compared to April 2013. During April, the lowest metro jobless rate in the state was 4.5% in Northwest Arkansas and the highest rate was 8.4% in the Pine Bluff area.

JOBLESS RATE RELEVANCY
Greg Kaza, an economic researcher and director of the Arkansas Policy Foundation, said the jobless rate has typically been of interest only to the media.

“Far be it from me to tell the media what they should look at as the headline number ... but I’ve always looked at the percentage growth in payroll employment (compared to state and national averages),” Kaza said when asked about the relevancy of the jobless rate.

Kaza said the employment numbers are not impressive in Arkansas and most of the metro areas.

“Payroll employment is the broadest economic indicator at the local level. Payroll employment, statewide, should be stronger than what it is. It’s a weak expansion at best,” he explained.

He added that individuals, businesses and governments should be considering their options for when the expansion ends – as all business cycles do.

“The really big question, going forward, is stepping out and realizing that this expansion, or whatever you want to call it, that this expansion is going to end eventually. The question then is, ‘How do we get prepared for it? ... How do households prepare for it? How do your business readers prepare for it,’” Kaza said.

Kaza mentioned four broad theories behind the decline in the labor force:
• Baby boomers leaving the job market to retire;
• More people living on Social Security and/or unemployment benefits;
• Some move to another (often larger) metropolitan area to look for work; and
• People “who are just discouraged and have dropped out” of the job market.

“But until you survey them, you can’t say why they are dropping out of the workforce,” Kaza said.

The official employment rate does not include all eligible for the workforce. For example, the U.S. jobless rate in April was 6.3%, but the “U-6” rate, which measures those “marginally attached” to the labor force, was 12.3%.

NWA METRO NUMBERS
Following are other key figures from the BLS metro report.
Unemployed persons in the region totaled 10,593 during April, down from the 12,596 during March below the 12,536 during April 2013.

The Northwest Arkansas manufacturing sector employed an estimated 26,200 in April, below the 26,300 in March, and down from the 26,400 during April 2013. Sector employment is down more than 21% from more than a decade ago when April 2004 manufacturing employment in the metro area stood at 33,500.

Jobs in the Trade, Transportation and Utilities sector — the region’s largest job sector —  totaled 48,300 in April, up from 48,100 during March, and up from the 47,600 during April 2013. The sector reached record employment of 50,500 in December 2006.

Employment in the region’s tourism industry was 22,100 during April, which set a new record for the sector. The level was up from 21,400 in March and up from 21,300 during April 2013.

In Education & Health Services, employment was 24,800 during April, up from 24,700 in March and up from 24,100 during April 2013. The April employment, if it stands, ties the previous record first reached in November 2013.

In the Government sector, employment was 32,600 during April, down from 32,700 in March and up compared to 32,000 during April 2013.

NATIONAL NUMBERS
Unemployment rates were lower in April than a year earlier in 357 of the 372 metropolitan areas, higher in 12 areas, and unchanged in three areas, noted the broad BLS report.

The U.S. unemployment rate in April was 6.3%, down from 7.5% from a year earlier. Arkansas’ jobless rate was 6.6% in April, down from 6.9% in March and down from 7.5% in April 2013.

Oklahoma’s jobless rate during April was 4.6%, down from 4.9% in March, and down compared to 5.3% in April 2013. The Missouri jobless rate during April was 6.6%, down from 6.7% in March and unchanged compared to April 2013.

ARKANSAS METRO AREAS
Fayetteville-Springdale-Rogers
April 2014: 4.5%
March 2014: 5.4%
April 2013: 5.3%

Fort Smith
April 2014: 5.9%
March 2014: 6.9%
April 2013: 7.5%

Hot Springs
April 2014: 6.1%
March 2014: 7.1%
April 2013: 7.2%

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Jonesboro
April 2014: 5.6%
March 2014: 6.5%
April 2013: 6.7%

Little Rock-North Little Rock-Conway
April 2014: 5.5%
March 2014: 6.3%
April 2013: 6.3%

Memphis-West Memphis
April 2014: 7%
March 2014: 8.2%
April 2013: 8.9%

Pine Bluff
April 2014: 8.4%
March 2014: 9.3%
April 2013: 9.4%

Texarkana
April 2014: 5.7%
March 2014: 6.6%
April 2013: 6.9%

NORTHWEST ARKANSAS METRO AREA HISTORY
Past annual average unemployment rates
2013: 5.7%
2012: 5.6%
2011: 6.2%
2010: 6.4%
2009: 6.2%
2008: 4.1%
2007: 3.8%
2006: 3.6%
2005: 3.3%
2004: 3.8%
2003: 3.7%
2002: 3.3%
2001: 3%
2000: 2.9%

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