Arkansas unemployment rate hits record high; the size of the labor force remains low

All major employment sectors in Arkansas saw job gains in February, with the state’s unemployment rate setting a new record high of 3.1%, up from 4.8% in February 2021. However, Arkansas’ workforce remains well below pre-pandemic levels.

The number of employees in Arkansas in February was estimated at 1,297,227, up 28,287 jobs from February 2021, and above January’s 1,268,940, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics report. United States released Friday, March 25. February figures are preliminary and subject to revision. The initial unemployment rate for December 2021 was also a record 3.1%, but was later revised to 3.3%.

Arkansas’ labor force, the number of people eligible to work, in February was 1,339,378 in February, up 7,065 from February 2021 and above January’s 1,334,809. However, the labor force is 46,603 fewer participants than before the pandemic in March 2020. The state’s labor force participation rate was 56.5% in February, down from 56.7% in February 2021, and also lower than the pre-pandemic 59.3% in March 2020.

Gov. Asa Hutchinson said the February report shows more Arkansans returning to the workforce.

“The best news is that we have over 5,000 more Arkansans employed with a net increase of over 4,500 in the labor force,” the governor said of February’s comparisons with January’s numbers. “It means we are seeing more people returning to the labor market, and that is essential to meet the needs of our growing economy. We’ve seen job growth in almost every industry, and with a record unemployment rate of 3.1%, we continue to be below the national unemployment rate.

The jobless Arkansans in February totaled 42,151, down from 42,610 in January, and well below the 63,373 in February 2021. The sector’s largest year-over-year gains were in trade, the transport and public services (14,500 additional jobs) and leisure and the hotel industry (creation of 10,900 jobs).

NATIONAL NUMBERS
Unemployment rates were lower in February in 31 states and stable in 19 states, according to the BLS report. All 50 states recorded a drop in the unemployment rate from the previous year. The US rate was 3.8%.

Nebraska and Utah had the lowest unemployment rates in February at 2.1% each. The next lowest rates were in Indiana at 2.3% and Kansas at 2.5%. Rates in these four states set new series lows, as did rates in the following five states (all state series begin in 1976): Arkansas (3.1%), Mississippi (4.5%) , Montana (2.6%), Oklahoma (2.6%) and West Virginia (3.9%).

Non-farm payroll employment rose in 27 states and was virtually unchanged in 23 states in February 2022. The largest job gains were in California (+138,100), Texas (+77,800) and in Florida (+51,000).

SECTORAL EMPLOYMENT FIGURES
Trade, transport and public services
February 2022: 266,500
January 2022: 265,200
February 2021: 252,000
The February 2022 level marked a new high for the sector.

Government
February 2022: 208,800
January 2022: 208,900
February 2021: 206,300
Employment in the sector peaked at 224,100 in May 2010.

Education and health services
February 2022: 195,300
January 2022: 194,700
February 2021: 194,100
Employment in the sector set a record 196,600 in March 2021.

Manufacturing
February 2022: 161,800
January 2022: 161,000
February 2021: 155,400
Manufacturing, once the state’s largest employment sector, recorded a record employment of 247,600 in July 1995.

Professional and business services
February 2022: 148,900
January 2022: 152,600
February 2021: 142,400
The January figure marked a record for the sector.

Leisure and Hospitality
February 2022: 120,900
January 2022: 120,400
February 2021: 110,000
The sector hit an employment record of 122,900 for the first time in February 2019.

Financial activities
February 2022: 66,400
January 2022: 66,400
February 2021: 65,600
The sector first posted a record number of jobs of 66,400 in January.

Construction
February 2022: 55,700
January 2022: 55,600
February 2021: 53,600
The sector reached a record number of jobs of 57,700 in February 2006.

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