Falling 1 point, state jobless rate 6.2%

Job gains in the professional services and retail sectors led the way as statewide unemployment dropped a full percentage point in October, falling to 6.2%.

The state Department of Workforce Services announced Friday that nonfarm payroll employment increased by 11,500 jobs in the month, boosted by a 4,000 employment gain in professional and business service jobs along with 3,900 jobs added in retail as businesses gear up for Christmas shopping.

Unemployment fell from the 7.2% recorded in September and remains below the national jobless rate of 6.9%. The state’s civilian labor force declined 12,370, a result of 14,117 fewer unemployed and 1,747 more employed Arkansans.

Commerce Secretary Mike Preston pointed to the job improvements as a sign the economy is on the mend.

“October’s unemployment rate is another indication that our economy continues to recover — a testament to the resilience of Arkansans in this unprecedented time,” Preston said.

Unemployment claims filed by Arkansans also are showing a continued decline. There were 5,484 new claims filed in the first week of October and slightly more than 3,000 filed last week.

At the same time, continued weekly claims — reflecting those who collect benefits over several weeks or longer — reached 32,202 in the first week of October and declined to 18,767 last week.

“The [unemployment] down-tick was not necessarily surprising when you examine the unemployment claims information,” said Michael Pakko, state economist with the Arkansas Economic Development Institute. “The downward trend has been continuing from the summer months.”

Eight sectors posted job gains from September to October. In addition to the professional services and retail sectors, job gains were recorded in the construction, manufacturing and financial industries. Employment in the government, health care and hospitality sectors remained flat from September.

“The economy has bounced back pretty smartly from the initial downturn in March and April,” Pakko said. “We’re seeing an adjustment to a new normal … and some of the sectors that have been affected most by shutdowns have rebounded considerably.”

On the economic development front, Preston noted that employment is gaining traction but there is still work to be done to restore jobs.

“Although our unemployment rate is consistently decreasing and remains below the national average, our state still has a long way to go,” Preston added. “The Department of Commerce remains committed to fighting for businesses, working to protect livelihoods, and implementing tools that will provide critical resources and support for those trying to get back on their feet.”

In October, the state’s civilian labor force declined by 12,370 from the prior month. The drop is not of great concern, Pakko said, noting that while the labor force is down 32,428 from a year ago, it was down by more than 62,000 in July.

“There is a lot of volatility there,” Pakko added. “People are moving rapidly from states of employment to unemployment, making it hard to pin down those numbers.”

Compared to a year ago, nonfarm payroll jobs in Arkansas are down 42,600 and eight major industry sectors have suffered job losses. Manufacturing has dropped 16,200 jobs; leisure and hospitality has decreased by 15,400; and government employment has declined by 8,600 jobs; and health care has lost 7,700.

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