“Arkansas’ civilian labor force declined 4,800, a result of 4,800 fewer employed Arkansans.” Department of Workforce Services, August 19, 2013


(September 19, 2013) Arkansas’ civilian labor force–all employed and unemployed Arkansans–is contracting in an expansion, an unprecedented development in state labor market records that date to the mid-1970s.  The trend may continue when the August employment report is released Friday.


Arkansas’ civilian labor force was 1,332,500 in June 2013,1 a decline of 20,300 workers from June 2009 when the Great Recession ended and a new expansion started.2 The civilian labor force was 1,352,800 that month.3


Department of Workforce Services data show civilian labor force growth at the four-year mark in three prior expansions (1981-1990, 1991-2001, 2001-2007).  These periods were November 1981 to November 1985 (1,025,700 to 1,060,200); March 1991 to March 1995 (1,120,300 to 1,228,800); and November 2001 to November 2005 (1,254,100 to 1,351,200).


Weaker Than Recession


Arkansas’ labor market is weaker than past recessions when the force expanded or contracted by fewer workers.  These recessions were from March to November 2001 (1,253,800 to 1,254,100); July 1990 to March 1991(1,124,700 to 1,120,300); and December 2007 to June 2009 (1,370,900 to 1,352,800).  The force added 300 (2001) but fell 4,400 (1990-91) and 18,100 (2007-09) versus the recent decline of 20,300 (2009-13).


Economic Policies Are Not Working


The simplest explanation for the unprecedented contraction of Arkansas’ civilian labor force is that economic policies are not working.  Discouraged workers are leaving the work force because they cannot find employment.

Seasonal factors may also play a role.  Arkansas’ civilian labor force expanded in the June-to-September period in 29 of 37 years since 1976.4


U.S. Civilian Labor Force Expands


The U.S. civilian labor force has expanded in the last four years, increasing from 154,710,000 (June 2009) to 155,835,000 (June 2013).5



Surrounding States


BLS data show that the civilian labor force in five of six surrounding states expanded in the last year.6  These states are Texas, Tennessee, Louisiana, Missouri and Oklahoma.


Technical Issues7


Labor Force measures, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) are “based on the civilian non-institutional population 16 years old and over.”  They include “the sum of all private industry and state and local government workers,” and the unemployed currently seeking employment.8


The labor force does not include persons under 16 years of age, active duty military, those in institutions, and agricultural workers.


–Greg Kaza



1  Arkansas Department of Workforce Services, August 19 press release.  Arkansas’ civilian labor force peaked at 1,370,900 in December 2007, the month the Great Recession started.

2  National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER), business cycle chronology, www.nber.org

3  Arkansas Department of Workforce Services, “Quick LMI, Civilian Labor Force,” http://www.discover.arkansas.gov/

4  Exceptions occurred in 2012, 2009, 2008, 1997, 1992, 1984 and 1982.

5  BLS, Current Population Survey, Series ID LNS 11000000, Civilian Labor Force Level

6 Civilian labor force and unemployment by state and selected area, Aug. 19,  http://www.bls.gov/news.release/laus.t03.htm

7 “Total employment” is not directly comparable to “employment” reported under “labor force” in data files.  Unemployed persons who “are not looking” for a job are counted by the BLS as “not in the labor force.”  The BLS explains persons in this group are asked a series of questions each month about “their desire for work, the reasons why they had not looked for work in the last 4 weeks, their prior job search, and their availability for work.”  These questions form the basis for estimating the number of persons considered to be “marginally attached to the labor force.” These persons must indicate that they want a job, have sought employment in the last 12 months, and are available for work. “Discouraged workers,” a subset of the marginally attached are not currently looking for work for one of four reasons: they believe no job is available to them in their line of work; they had previously been unable to find work; they lack the necessary schooling, training, skills, or experience; or employers think they are too young or too old, or they face some other type of discrimination.  http://www.bls.gov/cps/cps_htgm.htm#nilf

8  http://www.bls.gov/bls/glossary.htm