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State’s jobless rate inches up to 7.2%

By Glen Chase

This article was published November 21, 2012 at 3:48 a.m.

— Arkansas’ unemployment rate ticked up to 7.2 percent in October, the state Department of Workforce Services said Tuesday.

Overall, the state’s civilian labor force shrank by 4,700 jobs from September, when the unemployment rate was 7.1 percent. However, Arkansas’ unemployment rate for October is lower than the 7.9 percent national rate and is nearly a point lower compared to a year ago, when the state rate was 8.0 percent.

The state’s civilian labor force — the combination of those who are employed and those looking for work — was 1,372,100 in October. Since May, Arkansas’ civilian labor force has contracted by 18,400.

Kimberly Friedman, spokesman for the Workforce Services Department, said in a statement that, compared to a year ago, there are 10,300 more employed Arkansans and 11,000 fewer unemployed in the state.

“Over last 10 years, including this year, in October the rate has gone up three times, so it’s nothing to be alarmed about,” Friedman said.

Friedman and Michael Pakko, chief economist at the Institute for Economic Advancement at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock, agreed that it’s more important to look at long-term trends rather than month-to-month adjustments.

Unemployment data is based on a survey of about 800 Arkansas households done by the U.S. Census Bureau and analyzed by the Department of Labor. The Arkansas figure has a margin of error of 0.9 percent.

Pakko described the Octo- ber increase as “really insignificant.”

“The bigger picture is that we’ve been kind of stuck at around 7.2-7.3 percent since April or May of this year,” he said, noting that while the number of unemployed tracked in the survey has declined, the labor force has contracted over past six months.

Pakko described the state’s unemployment situation as a “general environment of, I guess, uncertainty.” He said that’s reflected in both unemployment statistics and in payroll counts. Pakko also said the state’s sales tax collections are off, suggesting consumers are scaling back spending.

He said the pace of economic recovery, both in Arkansas and across the nation, has slowed, but there’s no clear way to attribute it to any specific sector.

John Shelnutt, administrator for economic analysis and tax research for the state’s Department of Finance and Administration, said one positive trend in the report is the rise in the number of nonfarm payroll jobs over the past 12 months.

Arkansas had 1,178,400 nonfarm payroll jobs in October, up 13,500 from the same month a year ago, according to the report.

Shelnutt agreed that more time is needed to assess the status of the recovery, especially in the manufacturing and construction sectors. While the October report said manufacturing jobs dropped from September to October by 100 to 156,200, and construction dropped by 2,100 jobs to 44,400 in October, the number of health-care and education positions rose by 1,400 to 173,900.

“Retail trade [jobs], at least in latest preliminary numbers, are much more positive,” Shelnutt said.

He said year-to-year, retail employment is up 1.6 percent where it had been trending negative.

Business, Pages 25 on 11/21/2012

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