Pine Bluff currently has the highest unemployment in the state at 5.8 percent, according to the November jobs numbers from the Arkansas Department of Workforce Services. That’s up slightly from 5.7 percent in October. These are the most recent statistics available from the DWS.
While on paper it may look like something to be overly concerned about, a local economist says it can actually help attract industry.
According to the DWS, there were 953 unemployed workers in Pine Bluff in November, up from 943 in October. The total labor force for Pine Bluff in November is listed at 16,464, down from 16,583 in October.
The next highest unemployment rate in the state for October and November was El Dorado, which reported unemployment rates of 5.4 percent in October and 5.1 percent in November. The lowest unemployment rate for the two months was tied at 2.3 percent between Springdale and Bentonville in the financially-wealthy northwest Arkansas area.
Meanwhile, Jefferson County’s unemployment rate rose from 4.9 percent in October to 5.1 percent in November, according to the DWS. Next door in Lincoln County, the unemployment rate rose slightly from 3.9 percent in October to 4 percent in November.
In Arkansas County, which also borders Jefferson County, unemployment rose from 2.9 percent in October to 3.2 percent in November, while another neighbor, Cleveland County, maintained a 3.6 percent unemployment rate from October to November.
The state’s unemployment rate was steady at 3.3 percent for October and November.
Caleb McMahon, director of economic development at the Jefferson County Alliance and Chamber, said Pine Bluff’s high unemployment rate isn’t necessarily a bad thing.
“One thing is that we look at the number since 2011 when we first introduced the economic inventive tax,” he said.
“Unemployment was 11 percent then. It has been steadily going down. This is a good trend, but that being said, compared to other locations, we do have a higher unemployment rate. That higher rate actually makes us more attractive to industry because of our available workforce. Workforce is a key thing that industry looks for. There is a silver lining that helps us attract more business. It’s our job to get (the unemployment rate) as low as possible. We started out way behind everyone else.”
McMahon pointed to the coming casino/hotel, which is expected to bring more than 1,000 jobs to the area, as one bright spot in the city’s economic future.