Arkansas' labor force size continues decline, jobless rate falls to 6.4% (Updated)

Editor's note: Story updated with analysis from the Arkansas Policy Foundation.

Arkansas’ jobless rate fell to 6.4% in May, but the state’s labor force continues to decline in size, and the number of employed during May was the lowest level of the year. Overall, the state’s labor force size and number of employed remains below pre-recession levels.

The May rate of 6.4% was below the April rate of 6.6% and below the May 2013 rate of 7.5%, according to the report issued Friday (June 20) by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. The May figures are subject to revision.

Year-over-year, the Education and Health Services sector was up 3,800 jobs, the state’s tourism sector gained an estimated 3,000 jobs, the Trade, Transportation and Utilities sector was up 2,800 jobs, and the construction sector was up 1,500 jobs.

Arkansas’ labor force was an estimated 1.315 million in May, below the 1.322 million in April, and down 0.08% compared to 1.326 million in May 2013. The year-over-year comparison shows an estimated 10,952 fewer Arkansans in the labor force. There are 45,513 fewer Arkansans in the labor force compared to May 2007, a decline of almost 3.34%.

The number of employed in Arkansas during May was 1.231 million, below April employment of 1.235 million, buit up an estimated 4,649 jobs compared to the 1.226 million in May 2013.

The number of unemployed was an estimated 84,124 during May, down from the 86,761 in April, and well below the 99,725 in May 2013.

Arkansas’ annual average jobless rate fell from 7.9% during 2011 to a revised 7.5% during 2012. The initial annual average jobless rate for Arkansas during 2013 is 7.5%.

UPDATED INFO: Greg Kaza, economic researcher and executive director of the Arkansas Policy Foundation, said the 1,800 new Arkansas jobs in May “means the state's labor market has regained nearly 80 percent of payroll employment lost as a result of the Great Recession.” He added that the jobs market in Arkansas “is slowly approaching the peak achieved in the previous cycle, 1,209,800 (February 2008).”

Kaza also noted that BLS figures show that 30 of Arkansas' 75 counties added new jobs from the end of the Great Recession (June 2009) through December. The top five counties for job gains are: Benton (+9,718), Washington (+5,244), Craighead (+4,379), Faulkner (+2,210), and Pulaski (+1,686) counties.

ARKANSAS SECTOR NUMBERS
In the Trade, Transportation and Utilities sector — Arkansas’ largest job sector — employment during May was an estimated 243,500, down from 243,600 in April and ahead of the 240,700 during May 2013. Employment in the sector hit a high of 251,800 in March 2007.

Manufacturing jobs in Arkansas during May totaled 153,700, down compared to 154,600 in April and above the 152,200 in May 2013. Employment in the manufacturing sector fell in 2013 to levels not seen since early 1968. Peak employment in the sector was 247,300 in February 1995.

Government job employment during May was 214,800, down from 215,800 in April and below the 215,200 during May 2013.

The state’s Education and Health Services sector during May had 175,900 jobs, up from the 173,400 during April and up from 172,100 during May 2013. Employment in the sector is up more than 23% compared to May 2004.

Arkansas’ tourism sector (leisure & hospitality) employed 107,800 during May, down from 108,700 during April, and above the 104,800 during May 2013. Employment in this sector reached a high of 109,100 in March.

The construction sector employed an estimated 47,000 in May, down from 47,400 in April and above the 45,500 in May 2013. The sector is off the employment high of 57,600 reached in March 2007.

NATIONAL, REGIONAL DATA

The BLS report also noted that 49 states had unemployment rate decreases from a year earlier, and one state had and increase. Alabama’s jobless rate was 6.8% in May, up from 6.4% in May 2013. The national jobless rate during May was 6.3%, and was down from the 7.5% in May 2013.

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Rhode Island had the highest unemployment rate among the states in May at 8.2%. North Dakota again had the lowest jobless rate at 2.6%.

The May jobless rate in Oklahoma was 4.6%, unchanged compared to April and down from 5.4% in May 2013.

Missouri’s jobless rate during May was 6.6%, unchanged compared to April and down from 6.7% in May 2013.

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