Arkansas Employment and Unemployment – November 2013

By , December 20, 2013 12:34 PM

The latest employment report from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics and the Arkansas Department of Workforce Services might appear disappointing on the surface, but there were some positive developments.  Despite an unemployment rate that was unchanged at 7.5% in November, the underlying data from the household survey moved in the right direction:  the number of employed was up by nearly 4,400 and the number of unemployed was down by almost 700.  The net change in the labor force was an increase of approximately 3,700. As shown in the set of figures below, these monthly changes represent a welcome departure from the overall trends we’ve been observing since the beginning of 2012.


Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, Local Area Unemployment Statistics (LAUS)

To some extent, it was disappointing that we did not see a drop in the unemployment rate.  The statistics for October had been distorted by the federal government shutdown.  On the national level, the unemployment rate ticked up one-tenth of a percent in October, then dropped by three-tenths of a percent in November.  In Arkansas, we saw the October increase but remained stuck at 7.5% in November.


Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics

Payroll Survey:
The report on nonfarm payroll employment was also somewhat encouraging this month:  employment was up 3,000 in November (seasonally adjusted) and the figures for October were revised upward by 1,500.  As shown in the table below, employment increased in several sectors, including Professional & Business services, Leisure & Hospitality, Education & Health, and Construction.  Over the past 12 months, the payroll survey is showing a net increase of 13,500 jobs.


Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, Current Employment Statistics (CES)

Contrasting Trends and Data Revisions:
As previously noted, the household and payroll surveys have been showing dramatically different trends over the past two years.  Since January 2012, the household survey has shown a net decline of nearly 40,000 employed, while the payroll survey has registered an increase of 18,200.  There can often be a discrepancy between two reports over short periods of time, but a divergence of this magnitude and duration is unusual.  The monthly data for November showed the two series moving in the same direction, but the cumulative deviation remains substantial.

Some new data from the Quarterly Census of Employment and Wages (QCEW) released this week might help reconcile the conflicting trends — but not by much and not in an encouraging way.  The data from the QCEW are used to periodically revise the payroll statistics.  This “benchmark revision” takes place once per year, with the revised data released in March.  Previously released data from the QCEW had suggested that revisions to the payroll statistics for 2013 would be minimal.  However, the latest release showed a downward revision for the first quarter of 2013, along with a stagnant second quarter.  As a result, it now appears likely that the 2013 payroll statistics will be revised sharply downward.

The figure below illustrates the diverging trends of the household and payroll statistics, along with a projection of how revised payroll data are likely to affect the comparison.  The revision is expected to lower the level of measured payroll employment by over 15,000 (as of June 2013).  As a result, the cumulative change in payroll employment from January 2012 through November 2013 is likely to be approximately +2,500 (down from the +18,200 change in the currently-reported data).  This would partly close the gap between the household and payroll employment numbers, but a discrepancy of over 42,000 jobs would remain.


Sources: Bureau of Labor Statistics (LAUS, CES, QCEW), with calculations by the Institute for Economic Advancement

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*Seasonally adjusted data for Arkansas nonfarm payroll employment, reported in a format compatible with the monthly news release from the Arkansas Department of Workforce Services, can be found hereTable-Seasonally Adjusted NFPE.

Arkansas Taxable Sales – 2013:Q3

By , December 12, 2013 12:51 PM

Arkansas Taxable Sales (ATS) declined slightly in the third quarter, down 0.3% from the previous quarter (seasonally adjusted).  Compared to the same period a year earlier, however, ATS was up 5.7%.  ATS includes all items subject to Arkansas sales and use taxes, so it does not include retail gasoline purchases.  Using data from the state’s motor fuel tax to augment the data produces a slightly broader measure of retail spending: Arkansas Taxable Sales Including Gasoline (ATSIG).  Total spending on gasoline was down 0.7% in the third quarter, so there was little difference in the quarterly growth rate of ATS and ATSIG.  Compared to the third quarter of 2012, however, lower prices drove a 5.5% decline in spending on gasoline.  So over the past year, ATSIG increased by only 4.8%.


Sources: Department of Finance and Administration, Oil Price Information Service, Institute for Economic Advancement

It has been four years since ATS hit the cyclical trough associated with the 2008-2009 recession.  Since that time it has expanded by 15.4% — an annual growth rate of 3.6%.  Over the same period, ATSIG has expanded at a 3.9% annual rate.


Sources: Department of Finance and Administration, Oil Price Information Service, Institute for Economic Advancement

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Arkansas Taxable Sales (ATS) is calculated by the Institute for Economic Advancement to serve as a timely proxy for Arkansas retail sales. The series is derived from sales and use tax data, adjusting for the relative timing of tax collections and underlying sales, changes in tax laws, and seasonal patterns in the data.  Arkansas Taxable Sales Including Gasoline (ATSIG) incorporates data on the state motor fuel tax and gasoline prices from the Oil Price Information Service.

A spreadsheet of the data is available here: Arkansas Taxable Sales 2013:Q3 (Excel file)

Metro Area Employment and Unemployment – October 2013

By , December 10, 2013 3:38 PM

Still catching up with the backlog from the government shutdown, the Bureau of Labor Statistics last week released data for metro area employment and unemployment for both September and October.  Not surprisingly, unemployment rates rose in October as federal workers and contractors on furlough were classified as unemployed.  The smoothed seasonally-adjusted metro area estimates show that unemployment in October increased by 0.3% in Hot Springs and Pine Bluff, and by 0.2% in Little Rock.  Fort Smith was the only metro area in the state that did not see an unemployment rate increase in October.  In fact, Fort Smith’s rate was down by one-tenth from August.

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, Smoothed Seasonally Adjusted Metropolitan Area Estimates

Over the past year, unemployment rates in Arkansas have been on the rise.  Statewide, the rate has risen from 7.2% in October 2012 to 7.5% in October 2013.  Among the state’s metro areas, only Fort Smith has seen a net decline in unemployment over the same period, while Jonesboro was unchanged.  Unemployment rates have risen in all of the other seven metro areas, with notable increases in Pine Bluff, Texarkana, Memphis and Hot Springs.

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, Smoothed Seasonally Adjusted Metropolitan Area Estimates

Payroll Employment
Payroll employment figures (which should not have been affected by the government shutdown) showed some sizable gains in October.  Employment in October rose by more than 1% in both Pine Bluff and Fort Smith.  The increase in Fort Smith came on top of an increase in September as well.  The only metro areas that saw a decline in payrolls for October were Hot Springs and Memphis.  Compared to a year ago, employment was higher in all metro areas except Pine Bluff and Hot Springs.

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, Current Employment Statistics


Arkansas House Prices: 2013:Q3

By , December 3, 2013 3:14 PM

The latest data from the Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA) shows a continuing upward trend in Arkansas house prices, albeit at a slower rate than the U.S. average.  The FHFA’s “Expanded Data Indexes” showed that Arkansas house prices rose 0.5% in the third quarter compared to an increase of 2.2% nationwide (seasonally adjusted).  Over the past year, house prices were up 2.6% in Arkansas and up 8.8% for the entire U.S.

Source: Federal Housing Finance Agency; seasonal adjustment by the Institute for Economic Advancement

According to the “All-Transactions Index,” which includes home purchases and refinancings through FannyMae or FreddieMac, Arkansas house prices were down slightly for the quarter (-0.3%), but still up 2.2% over the past year.  Among the state’s metropolitan areas, prices were down everywhere except Jonesboro and Little Rock.  But even after a 1.1% decline in third quarter, prices in the Fayetteville-Springdale-Rogers metro area were 3.2% higher than a year earlier.

Source: Federal Housing Finance Agency

As illustrated in the figure below, the longer-term trends in house prices differ considerably among metropolitan areas.  The two-year growth rate of 3.6% in Northwest Arkansas represents a sharp reversal of the declining trend in 2007-2011.  On the other hand, the two-year growth rates of 5.6% in Jonesboro and 2.4% in Texarkana represent continued rising prices.  In fact, the nationwide collapse of housing prices preceding and coinciding with the recession was evident only in Fayetteville and Memphis (with a delayed downturn in Hot Springs). Compared to the first quarter of 2007, house prices are higher in Texarkana, Jonesboro, Fort Smith, Little Rock, and Pine Bluff.

Source: Federal Housing Finance Agency

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The Expanded Data Indexes include home purchases financed through FannieMae and FreddieMac, plus additional data from county recorders’ offices and from DataQuick.  The All-Transactions Indexes include both home purchases and refinancings through Fanny and Freddie, but without the additional data that are included in the Expanded Data Indexes.

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