Arkansas workforce, employment numbers decline in July

Arkansas’ July jobless rate of 6.2% is well below the 7.7% of July 2013, but the decline of more than 26,000 in the state’s labor force and an employment decline of almost 6,000 in the year-over-year period indicates a struggling economy.

The July rate of 6.2% was below the June rate of 6.3% and below the July 2013 rate of 7.7%, according to the report issued Monday (Aug. 18) by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. The July figures are subject to revision. The June rate was revised from 6.2% up to 6.3%.

Arkansas’ labor force was an estimated 1.298 million in July, below the 1.306 million in June, and down 2.01% compared to 1.324 million in July 2013. The year-over-year comparison shows an estimated 26,682 fewer Arkansans in the labor force. There are 69,228 fewer Arkansans in the labor force compared to the peak (1.367 million) in May 2008, a decline of almost 5.06%.

The number of employed in Arkansas during July was 1.217 million, below June employment of 1.224 million, and down an estimated 5,938 jobs compared to July 2013. The number of unemployed was an estimated 81,031 during July, down from the 81,857 in June, and well below the 101,775 in July 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%.

'LEAVE THE STATE'
Jeff Collins, an economist with The City Wire, said the July jobs report “certainly says something about the job opportunities in the state.” He said the decline in the workforce doesn’t mean that more than 26,000 are out of jobs, but “what you likely have are people who leave the state and go to another state to seek employment.”

Collins also said Arkansas’ economy has not transitioned to new economic realities at the same speed as other states.

“The workforce in the state of Arkansas, and this is a very generalized comment, does not compete well for certain types of employment. Unfortunately, the type of jobs we do compete for are dwindling and highly mobile. So if you look at what sectors have been growing in Arkansas, you have a lot of growth in the service sector, ... and you see that manufacturing has just been bleeding over several decades,” Collins said.

He said the growth in service sector jobs typically results in lower paying jobs than the jobs lost in the past decade. Solutions to improve Arkansas’ job numbers, according to Collins, includes “giving Arkansans more tools to grow their own businesses” and to “radically transform” the state’s workforce training programs.

Kathy Deck, director for the University of Arkansas’ Walton College Center for Business and Economic Research, said that while the falling unemployment rate will garner headlines, the declining labor force should be of top concern.

“What’s more is that that Arkansas labor force has been shrinking, while the U.S. labor force has been growing slightly,” Deck added. “And, finally, an interesting component is that the labor force is shrinking in every single metro area of the state, not just the rural areas.”

ARKANSAS SECTOR NUMBERS
In the Trade, Transportation and Utilities sector — Arkansas’ largest job sector — employment during July was an estimated 242,300, up from 242,200 in June and ahead of the 241,100 during July 2013. Employment in the sector hit a high of 251,800 in March 2007.

Manufacturing jobs in Arkansas during July totaled 154,400, down compared to 154,800 in June and above the 151,900 in July 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 July was 215,900, up from 214,600 in June and above the 215,600 during July 2013.

The state’s Education and Health Services sector during July had 174,300 jobs, down from the revised 174,400 during June and up from 171,800 during July 2013. Employment in the sector is up 22.3% compared to July 2004.

Arkansas’ tourism sector (leisure & hospitality) employed 108,500 during July, up from 108,200 during June, and above the 105,400 during July 2013. Employment in this sector reached a high of 109,100 in March.

The construction sector employed an estimated 47,400 in July, up from 47,100 in June and above the 44,700 in July 2013. The sector is off the employment high of 57,600 reached in March 2007.

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NATIONAL, REGIONAL DATA
The BLS report also noted that 49 states had unemployment rate decreases from a year earlier, and one state (Alabama, 7% in July compared to 6.5% in July 2013) had and increase. The national jobless rate during July was 6.2%, and was down from the 7.3% in July 2013.

Mississippi had the highest unemployment rate among the states in July at 8%. North Dakota again had the lowest jobless rate at 2.8%.

The July jobless rate in Oklahoma was 4.6%, up from 4.5% in June and down from 5.6% in July 2013.

Missouri’s jobless rate during July was 6.5%, unchanged compared to June and down from 6.8% in July 2013.

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