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Arkansas' unemployment rate fell to 3.5 percent in September, its lowest level in recorded history, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics said Friday.

The national unemployment rate in September was 3.7 percent, down from 3.9 percent in August.

Arkansas' previous low unemployment rate of 3.6 percent was reached in March through June last year and tied in August this year.

Since 1957, as far back as data are available, Arkansas' unemployment rate has not been lower than 3.6 percent, a spokesman with the bureau said last year.

Unemployment data were published only in annual reports to the president from 1957 to 1975 and those reports included only annual unemployment rates for the states, the spokesman said. From 1976 to the present, the bureau has reported monthly rates for each state, but none fell below 3.6 percent, the spokesman said.

Actually, Arkansas' unemployment rate was first reported as 3.4 percent in May, June and July last year, but the bureau raised that number in its annual revision this year.

It's "entirely possible" that September's unemployment rate of 3.5 percent also will be revised away early next year, said Mervin Jebaraj, director of the Center for Business and Economic Research at the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville.

While the record low unemployment rate is good news, the bad news is that the civilian labor force continues to shrink, said Greg Kaza, executive director of the Arkansas Policy Foundation in Little Rock

There were about 12,270 fewer Arkansans in the labor force in September than in September last year.

"But recent declines in the labor force participation rate complicate the interpretation of the unemployment rate," said Michael Pakko, chief economist at the Arkansas Economic Development Institute at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock.

Arkansas' unemployment rate is going down because people are dropping out of the labor force, not because they are finding jobs, Jebaraj said.

The labor force participation rate is calculated by dividing the labor force by the population of workers over the age of 16.

Arkansas' participation rate was 57.4 percent in September, Pakko said.

"That's down almost a full percentage point from a year ago and down nearly 6 percent from a decade ago," Pakko said. "So while a smaller fraction of the labor force is actively seeking employment, the labor force itself comprises a much smaller share of the state's population."

Most states in the country have participation rates above 60 percent, Jebaraj said. Arkansas' participation rate is the fourth lowest in the country, he said.

"And all of the employment gains are coming from three metro areas -- Northwest Arkansas, central Arkansas and Jonesboro," Jebaraj said. "They account for all the jobs gained in the state."

By comparison, nonfarm payroll jobs, the other monthly indicator of employment, are "looking pretty strong," Pakko said.

Nonfarm payroll jobs in Arkansas grew from September 2017 to last month by 10,700 jobs. There were job gains in six sectors and losses in five sectors.

The biggest growth was 6,700 professional and business services jobs added since September 2017.

The professional and business services sector has grown by 34.6 percent since June 2009, the end of the most recent recession, Kaza said. That's the most growth among the state's 11 business sectors.

That compares with growth of 28.5 percent in professional and business services nationwide, Kaza said.

The biggest decline in jobs came in information, which lost 1,000 jobs in the past year.

Hawaii had the lowest state unemployment rate in September at 2.2 percent, followed by Iowa at 2.5 percent. Three states tied at 2.7 percent -- Idaho, New Hampshire and North Dakota.

Alaska had the highest unemployment rate at 6.5 percent, followed by West Virginia at 5.2 percent, Louisiana at 5 percent, Mississippi at 4.8 percent and Arizona at 4.7 percent.

Business on 10/20/2018

Print Headline: State jobless rate hits record low 3.5%

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  • RBear
    October 20, 2018 at 7:05 a.m.

    "Arkansas' unemployment rate is going down because people are dropping out of the labor force, not because they are finding jobs, Jebaraj said." This signals some troubling signs as the number of jobs to fill will be exceeded by the available workforce. To complicate matters even more, that workforce often does not have the skills to fill the jobs.
    One interesting thing to note is the drop in the number of information jobs. That could be because of lack of need OR that workers in that sector exited the state to other states, leaving a hole to fill. If it's the later, we have an even bigger problem on our hands by not having enough information jobs in the workforce to fill need.