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— A monthly economic index for nine Midwest and Plains states, including Arkansas, rose again last month but still suggests an economic slump will continue over the next three to six months.

The Mid-America Business Conditions index hit 49.5 in December, up from November’s 48.0 and October’s 46.5.

Creighton University economist Ernie Goss oversees the survey, and he says he’s expecting only small regional increases in the job market.

The survey of business leaders and supply managers uses a collection of indexes ranging from zero to 100.

Survey organizers say any score above 50 suggests growth, while a score below 50 suggests decline for that factor.

In Arkansas, the overall index rose to a weak 47.7 from 45.4 in November. Components of the index were new orders at 44.8; production or sales at 46.0; delivery lead time at 50.0; inventories at 50.1 and employment at 47.5. “Over the last year, the Arkansas labor force shrank by almost 10,000 workers. The labor force equals employed plus unemployed workers. Thus, despite little job growth, Arkansas’s unemployment rate has continued to move lower,” Goss said.

Since the national economic recovery began in July 2009, Arkansas has lost almost 3,000 manufacturing jobs. “Our surveys over the past several months indicate that those losses are likely to continue, but at a slow pace,” he said.

In addition to Arkansas, the survey covers Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, Oklahoma and South Dakota.

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