Labor force data, produced by the U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics and released today by the Arkansas Division of Workforce Services, show Arkansas’ seasonally adjusted unemployment rate rose one and three-tenths of a percentage point, from 3.5 percent in February to 4.8 percent in March. Arkansas’ civilian labor force increased 19,039, a result of 18,526 more unemployed and 513 more employed Arkansans. The United States’ jobless rate rose nine-tenths of a percentage point, going from 3.5 percent in February to 4.4 percent in March.
BLS Program Operations Manager Susan Price said, “Due to the unprecedented nature of the COVID 19 outbreak, changes were made to the models that calculate employment and unemployment across the country. The increase in the number of unemployed Arkansans is, in large part, a reflection of the number of Unemployment Insurance claims filed during the week of March 12th. The small gain in employment is based largely on a monthly survey of Arkansas households, which was significantly impacted by the outbreak. Please see the note below for more detailed information on the data collection and how the Bureau of Labor Statistics is making changes to fully capture the impact of the pandemic on the workforce.”
The Impact of COVID-19 on the March Estimates
The labor market data from the establishment and household surveys for March broadly reflect the impact of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. BLS cannot precisely quantify the effects of the pandemic on the job market in March. However, it is clear that the changes in employment and unemployment can be ascribed to the effects of the illness and efforts to contain the virus.
It is important to keep in mind that the March survey reference periods for both surveys predated many coronavirus-related business and school closures in the second half of the month. In the establishment survey, workers who are paid by their employer for all or any part of the pay period including the 12th of the month are counted as employed, even if they were not actually at their jobs. Workers who are temporarily or permanently absent from their jobs and who are not being paid are not counted as employed, even if they continue to receive benefits. The establishment survey depends on the availability of survey respondents. Collection was adversely impacted due to the inability to reach some respondents. The collection rate for the establishment survey, at 66 percent, was about 9 percentage points lower than average. Although the collection rate was adversely affected by pandemic-related issues, BLS was still able to obtain estimates that met our standards for accuracy and reliability.
After careful evaluation, BLS staff determined that an unusually large number of household survey data series had outliers in March. Outlier detection is a usual part of the seasonal adjustment process. After manually designating these March estimates as outliers, BLS reran the seasonal adjustment models. For some data series, this had a substantive effect on March estimates. The full notes concerning the March estimates are available here on the BLS website.