Arkansas Unemployment Rate Unchanged at 3.8 Percent

Arkansas' seasonally adjusted unemployment rate remained stable at 3.8 percent between May and June, according to a report Friday by the Arkansas Department of Workforce Services.

Arkansas' civilian labor force declined by 2,803, a result of 3,147 fewer employed and 344 more unemployed Arkansans, the report said.

"While the number of employed in Arkansas declined slightly in June, employment is still up 48,742 over the year," BLS Program Operations Manager Susan Price said in a news release. "Changes in employment and unemployment were not enough to raise the unemployment rate this month."

The U.S. jobless rate rose two-tenths of a percentage point, from 4.7 percent in May to 4.9 percent in June.

Arkansas' nonfarm payroll jobs declined by 5,200 in June to total 1.2 million. Small gains occurred in seven major industry sectors, while three sectors posted losses. Jobs in government dropped 5,300 and employment in educational and health services decreased 2,800.

The largest increase, 900 jobs, occurred in professional and business services.

"There are many positions in demand in accounting and finance in the Arkansas market, including bookkeepers, staff an senior accountants, controllers and financial analysts," said Stephanie Shine, assistant vice president and division director for staffing firm Robert Half Finance & Accounting. "We've also seen an uptick in human resources and IT related positions. Many businesses are adding employees to already existing departments for growth."

Shine said that the low unemployment rate is giving employees an upper hand when it comes to wages and salary growth. She said that many companies are in "salary wars" with their competitors and the low rate is also pushing companies to improve their benefit packages.

Compared to June 2015, nonfarm payroll employment is up by 23,200, according to the report. Mining and logging posted the largest decline, down 1,400, with losses attributed to layoffs and closures throughout the industry.

Professional and business services posted the largest increase, adding 8,200 jobs, with the majority in administrative and support services.

"It's also worth noting that temporary hiring is on the rise as well, due to the coming legislation, more project work and just generally helping employers fill the gap when searching for permanent hires," Shine said. "It offers them a flexible staffing option."

Shine said that she predicts these trends will continue over the next few years, with companies struggling to fill spots for highly skilled professionals. Although she said most companies try to hire locals, the job searches can extend beyond state borders when necessary.

"It's definitely a candidates market; our clients are looking for top talent and there's a shortage right now," Shine said. "My job and my team's job has become increasingly more difficult over the years ... We really try to find local talent first but if we've exhausted our local talent we will look to surrounding states."

Shine said that she believes local colleges, universities, the state chamber and places such as the Arkansas Regional Innovation Hub in North Little Rock are doing everything they can to "put their heads together" and train more professionals for hard-to-fill positions. But there can't be instant results from those programs because students must graduate or receive training before entering the workforce.