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Arkansas’ jobless rate sets another record low in April

As the weather warms, will more signs such as this pop up? Economists say the latest data on claims for unemployment benefits may signal that better times are ahead.
Eric Gay
Arkansas' unemployment rate fell to 2.8% in April.

An almost 10% decline in the number of unemployed and a 1% gain in jobs year-over-year helped push Arkansas’ April jobless rate to 2.8%, below the 3.1% in April 2022 and a record low for the closely-watched metric.

The number of employed in Arkansas during April was an estimated 1,339,385, up 12,869 jobs, or 1%, compared with April 2022, and above the 1,334,554 in March, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics report posted Friday (May 19). The April numbers are preliminary and subject to revision.

Arkansas’ labor force, the number of people eligible to work, in April was 1,378,367, up 0.63% from the 1,369,620 in April 2022 and above the 1,375,422 in March. The state’s labor force participation rate was 57.5% in April, below the 57.7% in April 2022.

Arkansans without jobs in April totaled 38,982, below the 40,868 in March and down 9.6% compared with the 43,104 in April 2022. The April number marks the lowest number of jobless in Arkansas since the series data began in 1976. The record for jobless persons was 137,037 in April 2020 when the COVID-19 pandemic began to shut down parts of the global economy.

Dr. Michael Pakko, chief economist and state economic forecaster at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock’s Institute for Economic Advancement, said the record low is even more impressive considering the rise in interest rates.

“Record-low doesn’t seem to do it justice. Not too long ago, I wouldn’t have thought that a statewide unemployment rate below 3% was even possible. The latest report shows that the job market in Arkansas remains strong, contrary to expectations that the Fed’s interest rate increases would result in an economic slowdown,” Pakko said in a note to Talk Business & Politics.

Mervin Jebaraj, director of the Center for Business and Economic Research at the University of Arkansas, said the low jobless rate points to an economy that remains resilient despite inflation and higher interest rates.

“In spite of the headwinds from interest rate increases and bank failures, the economy is still fairly resilient. With overall inflation rates abating, consumers are still holding up the economy and for as long as that continues, we would expect to avoid a recession anytime soon,” Jebaraj said.

The biggest year-over-year sector gains were in Leisure and Hospitality (9,000 more jobs), Trade, Transportation and Utilities (6,200 more jobs), and Education and Health Services (5,800 more jobs). April saw record employment in the Leisure and Hospitality and Construction sectors.

Unemployment rates were lower in April in 14 states and stable in 36 states. Sixteen states had jobless rate decreases from a year earlier, 10 states had increases, and 24 states and the District had little change. The national unemployment rate was 3.4% in April, down from 3.5% in March.

South Dakota had the lowest jobless rate in April at 1.9%. The next lowest rate was in Nebraska at 2%, followed by New Hampshire and North Dakota at 2.1% each. The rates in Alabama (2.2%), Arizona (3.4%), Arkansas (2.8%), Kentucky (3.7%), Maine (2.4%), Maryland (2.5%), Mississippi (3.4%), Ohio (3.7%), West Virginia (3.3%), and Wisconsin (2.4%) set new series lows. (All state series begin in 1976.) Nevada had the highest rate at 5.4%. In total, 17 states had rates lower than the U.S. figure of 3.4%, 8 states had higher rates, and 25 states had rates that were not appreciably different from that of the nation.

Trade, Transportation, and Utilities
April 2023: 275,200
March 2023: 275,800
April 2022: 269,000
March marked a new employment record for the sector.

April 2023: 209,200
March 2023: 208,900
April 2022: 207,800
Sector employment hit a peak of 224,100 in May 2010.

Education and Health Services
April 2023: 203,200
March 2023: 203,000
April 2022: 197,400
January marked an employment record for the sector with 203,800 jobs.

April 2023: 163,300
March 2023: 163,900
April 2022: 161,700
Manufacturing, once the state’s largest jobs sector, posted record employment of 247,600 in February 1995.

Professional and Business Services
April 2023: 151,700
March 2023: 151,900
April 2022: 150,200
September 2022 marked an employment record for the sector with 156,300 jobs.

Leisure and Hospitality
April 2023: 129,600
March 2023: 126,700
April 2022: 120,600
April marked a new employment record for the sector.

Financial Activities
April 2023: 70,600
March 2023: 70,000
April 2022: 70,200
The sector had record employment of 71,500 in October 2022.

April 2023: 61,900
March 2023: 60,800
April 2022: 56,400
April marked a new employment record for the sector.