Business, healthcare and service industry jobs have seen the steepest downturn in Arkansas as a result of the coronavirus pandemic according to a new report by central Arkansas planning agency Metroplan.
The biannual Economic Trends and Outlook Report shows a drop of roughly 11% in leisure and hospitality jobs between April 2019 and April 2020, as well as just under 7% for education and healthcare and about 5% in business.
Jonathan Lupton, senior planner for publications at Metroplan, says the most noticeable economic effects of the pandemic should begin to end soon, though the long-term impact is still unclear.
“At some point in 2021 things will be more or less back to normal. We don't know exactly but they will get back to normal and then we'll see employment jump,” Lupton said. “But there are going to be after-effects because it's just been too long of a recession… there's going to be an adjustment period that will last at least two or three years I'd say.”
Lupton says the Little Rock area has been impacted more than most of the state due to a large number of healthcare and service industry employers.
“Little Rock, because it does have a lot of high-end, professional-type jobs, in that way we're kind of durable. We have the advantage of a lot of people being able to work from home. But that large healthcare sector has been a drag on our economy,” Lupton said.
Lupton says the state saw roughly 30,000 jobs lost at the outset of the pandemic, including between 4,000 and 5,000 in the healthcare sector. Despite that, he says different needs brought on by the pandemic have created an opportunity for growth in some sectors.
“We've seen a rapid rise in digital banking. The economy was already moving toward digital banking before COVID-19, but the pandemic for obvious reasons has the accelerated the digital banking thing. And the Little Rock area has a significant role in digital banking, and also in cybersecurity which is closely related to digital banking,” Lupton said.
And while the economic effects of the pandemic have been concentrated in Arkansas’ urban areas, Lupton says the pandemic has been more deadly on average in rural parts of the state.
“There are exceptions both ways; for example, the Pine Bluff metro area has been pretty hard hit. By comparison, the Little Rock area has had a lower death rate at least as of November when we last ran the numbers.”
Lupton says, despite an overall economic downturn, retail sales in the state and in counties saw a jump over the summer. He says he expects real estate markets to shift their emphasis from commercial office space to new homes as a result of more employers encouraging remote work.