By John Lyon

Arkansas News Bureau

LITTLE ROCK — Arkansas’ unemployment inched up one-tenth of a percentage point to 8.3 percent in August, the fourth straight monthly rise in the state jobless rate, labor statistics released Friday show.

The unemployment rate in Arkansas was 0.8 percent below the national rate of 9.1 percent last month, which was unchanged from the previous July, according to a report by the Arkansas Department of Workforce Services.

Unemployment has moved from this year’s low of 7.7 percent in April to its current rate of 8.3 percent. A year ago, the rate was a full one-half percent lower at 7.8 percent. In July, unemployment was 8.2 percent. 

Greg Kaza, executive director of the Arkansas Policy Foundation, said indicators such as the gross domestic product suggest that the national economy is recovering from the recession, but "it’s a weak recovery."

"It’s expanding, but it’s not expanding enough to bring down the unemployment rate," he said.

Arkansas’ labor force decreased by 2,000 in August. Workforce Services said 1.24 million Arkansans were employed during the month and 112,000 were out of work.

Workforce Services spokeswoman Kimberly Friedman said a slight increase in unemployment in August is typical.

"During the last 10 years the rate has never gone down (in August)," she said. "It’s actually stayed the same six times and increased four times."

The largest August increase in the past 10 years was two-tenths of a percentage point in 2008, Friedman said.

Four major industry sectors posted job gains last month, more than offsetting declines in five sectors. That may sound like a contradiction, since overall employment was down, but Friedman said the number of jobs can increase while the number of people employed decreases as more people begin working multiple jobs.

"You might have more than one job and so you’d be counted twice under the nonfarm payroll jobs information but only be counted once under the civilian labor force information," she said.

The government sector saw the largest increase in August with 6,700 jobs added, mostly related to seasonal hiring at public schools. Jobs in education and health services rose by 1,000, largely because of increases in social assistance.

Employment in construction dropped by 1,300, with contracting companies reporting employment declines throughout the various specialties. Jobs in leisure and hospitality decreased by 1,000, with losses spread through all subsectors.

The state’s jobless rate for August was 0.5 percentage points higher than the rate for August 2010. 

Since August 2010, eight major industry sectors reported gains, with five adding 1,000 or more jobs each. The largest increase was in leisure and hospitality, which added 6,000 jobs, a majority of them in food services.

Professional and business services added 3,100 jobs since August 2010, with gains in administrative and support services more than offsetting minor declines in both professional-scientific-technical services and management of companies.

Manufacturing reported the largest job loss over the past year, with 2,600 jobs lost in durable goods and 2,500 in nondurable goods, caused by multiple layoffs and closures.

"Manufacturing employment in Arkansas has declined to levels not seen in five decades," Kaza said. "The number that was just reported (156,500 employed in manufacturing) is the lowest level since second-quarter 1968, when it was 154,200 in April and 156,600 in May."

Kaza said manufacturing employment in the state peaked at a little more than 250,000 in 1995.

"Unlike previous recoveries, when manufacturing employment expanded after the recession ended, here we are more than two years since the technical end of the recession and we’re down," he said.

Gains in sectors such as leisure and hospitality to do not entirely make up for the loss of manufacturing jobs, Kaza said, because manufacturing jobs tend to pay more.