State’s jobless rate falls to 3.2% in February while U.S. tally rises

Graphs and information about the Arkansas and U.S. joblessness rates.
Graphs and information about the Arkansas and U.S. joblessness rates.

Unemployment in Arkansas dropped in February to 3.2%, besting the national rate and inching toward record lows set a year ago. The state's joblessness rate was down from 3.4% in January, state officials reported Friday.

The Arkansas Division of Workforce Services reported there were 3,051 more Arkansans employed in February compared with January, with 2,964 fewer being unemployed. Arkansas' labor force ticked up by 87 workers, leaving the labor force participation rate stable at 57.4% from January to February.

In the United States, the February unemployment rate rose to 3.6% from the 3.4% recorded in January, according to the Labor Department.

Arkansas' labor markets remain robust and have steadily improved since October, said Michael Pakko, chief economist at the Arkansas Economic Development Institute. The state reported record unemployment lows of 3.1% in March and April last year. Unemployment was at 3.2% in February 2022.

"The highlight of the news today was the drop in the unemployment rate and more particularly, the drop in the number of unemployed," Pakko said Friday.

The dip in the number of unemployed Arkansans in February was a decrease of more than 4,000 since October, Pakko noted. "That was a fairly substantial drop relative to most monthly changes," he added. "We're kind of in a run of declining unemployment figures since October. Things are looking pretty strong on that front."

Jobs in government jumped the most in February, adding 2,400 workers chiefly because of educational-related employees returning to work after the holidays. Leisure and hospitality added 1,800 jobs in February; and health and education services increased by 600 workers, according to the Arkansas Division of Workforce Services.

Financial services fell the most, dropping by 1,200 workers from January; trade, transportation and utilities declined by 700 jobs; and manufacturing lost 600 workers, according to the division.

The 3,051 added workers in the state marked the fifth consecutive month of growth. "It's moving in the right direction for employment and unemployment," Arkansas Commerce Secretary Hugh McDonald said Friday.

"It's encouraging to see that basically 3,000 people left the unemployment rolls, but we're still, from a numbers perspective, where we were a year ago," McDonald added. "We're down for the month but flat for the year. The key is to watch for a long-term trend."

Compared with February 2020, the state has added 62,100 jobs, up 4.7%, according to data on Pakko's blog. U.S. employment in February was up only 2% compared with three years ago.

Year-over-year, nonfarm payroll jobs in Arkansas were up by 29,500, an increase of 2.5%. Trade, transportation and utilities had the biggest gain, adding 7,200 workers; private education and health services increased by 6,700 workers; leisure and hospitality grew by 5,200; construction gained 3,400 workers; and manufacturing picked up 3,300 jobs.

On the national level, Arkansas was one of 17 states that recorded lower unemployment rates than the U.S. average in February.

Unemployment rates were lower last month in nine states, higher in three states and stable in 38 states. Thirteen states had jobless rate increases from a year earlier, 10 states had decreases, and 27 states had little change.

North Dakota and South Dakota had the lowest jobless rates in February at 2.1% each. Ten states, with Nevada holding the highest rate at 5.5%, had unemployment rates exceeding the U.S. average.

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