Employment up despite mass layoffs

— The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported Monday that there were a record 154 “mass layoffs” - reductions of at least 50 workers - last year in Arkansas for a record 16,665 people who lost their jobs.

Manufacturing accounted for the majority of big layoffs in Arkansas last year - 94- and the bulk of those laid off, 10,808.

Yet, overall there were 15,875 more Arkansans employed at the end of 2011 than in December 2010, the federal agency says. And 3,185 fewer Arkansans were unemployed at the end of last year. There were about 12,700 more Arkansans in the civilian labor force last year compared with 2010.

Mass layoffs grab the headlines, but day-to-day changes - whether it’s the creation of jobs or people leaving one position and moving to another - constitute most of the dynamics of the labor market, said Michael Pakko, chief economist at the Institute for Economic Advancement at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock.

But Kathy Deck, director of the Center for Business and Economic Research at the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville, said the big layoffs slow recovery.

Arkansas’ employment situation was comparatively good in the early stage of the national recession, which ran from December 2007 until June 2009, Deck said.

“These mass layoffs are just another piece of the evidence[of Arkansas’ slow recovery]. It was the largest number of Arkansans who lost their jobs in mass layoffs since the federal agency began keeping statistics in 1996.

Such cutbacks in 2010 were less than half the totals for last year - 71 events affecting 7,748 workers.

The 16,665 lost jobs in mass layoffs last year represents 1.2percent of the state’s total civilian labor force, Pakko said. Arkansas had the 17th-highest share of jobs lost through mass layoffs compared with the labor force, Pakko said.

For other states, the percentage ranges from 0.1 percent in South Dakota to 2.4 percent in Wisconsin, Pakko said.

Nationally, there were 1.8 million workers who lost their jobs in mass layoffs last year, about 50,000 fewer than in 2010.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics does not maintain statistics on the hiring of at least 50 workers at a single business, said James Howard, an economist with the agency’s Dallas office.

The biggest layoff announced last year in Arkansas was at the Whirlpool Corp. plant in Fort Smith. Whirlpool said in October that it would close the plant and lay off about 1,000 people by this summer.

Georgia-Pacific said in September that it would lay off 700 workers at its plant in Crossett.

Business, Pages 23 on 04/03/2012