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Unemployment rate drops in county

Thursday, November 20, 2008

According to Arkansas economists, the unemployment rate in Arkansas compared to the U.S. rate shows Arkansas' "muted" response to the national economic climate.

As of Nov. 13, the U.S. unemployment rate had reached a seven year high. According to the report, the number of newly laid-off individuals seeking unemployment benefits has jumped to a level not seen since just after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

The Labor Department reported that jobless claims during the week of Nov. 3 increased by 32,000, equalling 516,000. This number nearly matched the 517,000 claims reported seven years ago, and is the second-highest total since 1992.

The Nov. 13 figure of 516,000 is the first time claims have topped 500,000 during the current economic slowdown, according to the report. Jobless claims above 400,000 are considered a sign of recession. Claims stood at 338,000 a year ago.

The Associated Press said the report could affect the political debate in Congress over whether to enact another economic stimulus package and what it should include.

Initial claims have been driven higher in the past several months by a slowing economy hit by the financial crisis and cutbacks in consumer and business spending. According to the report, claims also rose in late September due to the impact of Hurricanes Ike and Gustav.

In Arkansas, the unemployment rate only rose one-tenth of a percent bringing it to 4.9 percent, according to the state Department of Workforce Services. Arkansas' rate remains lower than the September 2007 rate.

Ben Baxter, manager of the Department of Workforce Office said, Sharp County's unemployment rate actually dropped by two tenths of a percent from August to September. The unemployment rate in Sharp County as of September was 6.1 percent.

Surrounding counties have risen in unemployment but only by one tenth of a percent. From August to September Izard County went from 5.6 percent to 5.7 percent and Fulton County went from 4.3 percent to 4.4 percent.

According to Baxter, the October reports for the area have not come in yet but these numbers still show Arkansas is not being effected by the economy as much as some states.

This area is also affected in the colder weather because so many workers have seasonal jobs, Baxter said. "The rate is expected to raise a small amount when cold weather hits," Baxter said.

The U.S. Department of Labor's Bureau of Labor Statistics said, Arkansas' civilian labor force increased by 6,300 with 3,700 more people employed and 2,600 additional unemployed.

"Although Arkansas' unemployment rate rose, the slight increase was not unexpected," DWS Communications Director Kimberly Friedman said in the ArkansasBusiness.com report. "The change mirrors past trends for this time of the year and Arkansas' rate is still considerably lower than the national rate (of 6.1)."

In the same report, Kathy Deck, director of the University of Arkansas' Center for Business and Economic Research in the Sam M. Walton School of Business said, a much higher increase could have been expected considering the current economic conditions.

According to the bureau, Louisiana's rate increased to 5.2 percent from 4.7 percent in August with 17,500 jobs lost. "It's a very small amount," Deck said. "When you look at the national economy, it's not surprising to see Arkansas' rate going up."

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