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Arkansas Jobless Rate Below 5% For First Time In 15 Years

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The Arkansas jobless rate fell below to 5% for the first time since June 2001 as the state’s labor pool climbed to 1,337,500 in December, according to the figures released Tuesday by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

The state’s unemployment report for the last month of 2015 shows Arkansas’ seasonally adjusted unemployment rate dropped two-tenths of a percentage point, from 5% percent in November to 4.8% in December. The new jobless rate also pushes Arkansas below the U.S. unemployment number, which remained at 5% in December for the third straight month. The December data is subject to revision.

BLS Program Operations Manager Susan Price said Arkansas’ unemployment rate “has steadily declined for seven consecutive months.”

Overall, Arkansas’ civilian labor force increased 1,400, a result of 3,700 more employed and 2,300 fewer unemployed Arkansans. The size of the workforce was 1.335 million, up 1.98% compared to December 2014. The peak for Arkansas’ labor force was 1.376 million in August 2008.

Earlier this month, the nation’s economy added a robust 300,000 workers to the U.S. economy. Total nonfarm payroll employment rose by 292,000 in December, and the unemployment rate settled at 5.0%, the same as in October and November, Labor Department officials said.

U.S. Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker said growth accelerated in most industries above their previous 12-month average, with the transportation and warehousing, information services, and construction industries showing especially strong gains relative to the past year.

“The December jobs report caps off a strong year, with our economy adding more jobs over the past two years than in any two-year period since the 1990s. In 2015, the unemployment rate dropped to 5.0%, and workers’ earnings grew at the fastest rate since the recovery began,” Pritzer said. “With businesses now adding 14.1 million jobs over 70 straight months and extending the longest streak on record, we have momentum going into 2016.”

The number of employed in Arkansas during December was 1.273 million, better than the 1.269 million in November and 2.7% better than the 1.238 million in December 2014. The number of unemployed was an estimated at only 64,500 in the last month of 2015, below the 66,800 in November, and 9,800 jobs below the 74,300 in the same period a year ago.

Sectors leading the year-over-year gains were educational and health services (+7,000), professional business services (+6,400) and Construction (+5,300). Not surprising, the manufacturing sector continued its rapid decline, losing an estimated 4,500 jobs since December 2014.

The closely watched nonfarm payroll number was 1,227,900 million in December, up 2,600 from November and up 19,500 from 1,208,400 in December. The nonfarm number topped the 1.2 million mark in December 2014, the first time since September 2008.

The nonfarm category does not include farm workers, private household employees, non-profit employees and “general government” employees. Investopedia estimates that the nonfarm category represents about 80% of the total workforce that contributes to national GDP.

The preliminary average monthly jobless rate in Arkansas during 2015 is 5.4%. Arkansas’ average jobless rate for 2014 was 6.1%, down 1.3% percentage points from the 7.4% average in 2013.

In the Trade, Transportation and Utilities sector — Arkansas’ largest job sector — employment touched a new high during December with an estimated 253,600 workers in the labor pool, up from the 251,100 in November and slightly ahead of the 252,000 in December 2014. Employment in the sector last hit a high of 251,800 in March 2007.

Manufacturing jobs in Arkansas saw a surprising rebound in line with the national trend during December as the number of workers grew by 1,300 to 152,900. That is up slightly from 151,600 in November, but well below 157,400 a year ago. Employment in the manufacturing sector fell in October to levels not seen since early 1968. Peak employment in the sector was 247,300 in February 1995.

Government hiring in December was 217,700, down 800 from November’s tally of 217,800 and just below year ago levels of 217,400.

The state’s fast-growing Education and Health Services sector during December grew by 300 to 181,400. That compares with 174,700 in December 2014. This sector has seen steady growth in the past decade, with employment in the sector up nearly 22% compared to November 2005.

The construction sector employed an estimated 52,800 in December, up from 52,600 in November and well above the 47,500 level in the same period of 2014. The sector is off the employment high of 57,600 reached in March 2007.

Arkansas’ growing tourism sector (leisure & hospitality) employed 111,700 in December, slightly below 112,300 in November, but 9,500 above year ago levels of 108,900. The sector hit a record high in February with employment of 114,800.

Wesley Brown is the Business Editor for Talk Business & Politics. He can be reached by email at wesbrocomm@gmail.com or follow him on Twitter @BrownOnBusiness.