Pondering Arkansas’ Puzzling Jobs Picture

Earlier this afternoon, I did a quick interview with KFSM-TV, Channel 5, in northwest Arkansas, the local CBS affiliate, on the region’s jobs outlook and the puzzlement over some metropolitan unemployment numbers ArkansasBusiness.com and others reported on Tuesday.

According to the unemployment story, by ArkansasBusiness.com reporter Mark Hengel

Arkansas’ six metropolitan areas once again have shown better year-over-year employment statistics than the rest of the nation.

For the second month in a row, Jonesboro’s unemployment rate fell more than any area in the nation.

The city’s unemployment rate in October clocked in at 4.3 percent, compared with 4.9 percent for the same period a year ago. In all, five of Arkansas’ metropolitan areas fell in October when compared with the October 2007 numbers, according to U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics data (PDF).

This raised eyebrows among many, considering all we’re hearing about recession and job cuts (particularly the loss of 350,000 jobs nationwide coming Friday). It seems especially unbelievable in Fort Smith, which has been rocked by numerous layoff announcements, including two today.

The biggest of those has been Whirlpool, which announced in September that it will lay off 700 of its 2,100 workers beginning in November. Others announcing layoffs include Riverside Furniture (250 by January) and Jarden Process Solutions (93 also by January).

So why these numbers from the Bureau of Labor Statistics that show sunny times in Arkansas? We think it over after the jump.

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UPDATE: Lehman Brothers Goes Under; Merrill Lynch Sells to Bank of America

UPDATED: Dow ends the day down 500 points — most since September 11.

Also: Warren Stephens’ memo to employees at Stephens Inc.; sees historic opportunity; crisis won’t affect Stephens

Elsewhere in Arkansas Business news: Whirlpool cuts keep coming as 700 lose their jobs; and H-P, bound for Conway, nevertheless says it will cut 24,600 jobs.

Original post:

Heading into the weekend, it was clear this week was going to be a tough one on Wall Street, but it wasn’t until Sunday that we had any sense of just how much the financial framework of the Street was going to change.

Now, at mid-morning Monday, we’re watching U.S. markets deal with the fallout from a historic weekend that saw Lehman Brothers, the nation’s fourth largest investment banking firm, finally declaring bankruptcy and its efforts to find a buyer failed, and Merrill Lynch, another brokerage giant, selling to Bank of America to $50 billion — about half what the company was worth during the last year.

Meanwhile, insurance firm American International Group has asked the government for billions in emergency funding and will likely announce a restructuring soon.

The earthquakes in the financial sector — brought on by the nagging mortgage crisis — come as the government appears to have finally drawn in the line in what it will and won’t bail out. Having helped Bear Stearns, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the goverment has said “no more” in refusing to throw a life vest to Lehman, leaving it no choice but to liquidate.

As of this writing, the Dow Jones Industrial Average is down about 250 points. On the bright side, at least to oil and gas consumers, the price of oil continued to drop as concerns about the financial sector indicated a drop in demand. Oil is now well below the $100 per barrel market for the first time in about five months.

Needless to say, it’s a busy day today in business.

Some notes on Merrill Lynch in Arkansas. The firm is the state’s No. 5 broker dealer with 110 registered representatives in offices in Conway, Fort Smith, Hot Springs, Jonesboro, Little Rock and Rogers. It remains to be seen how the sale to Bank of America might affect those operations.

More

Lehman’s bust the biggest ever: $613 billion in debt

Feds play tough, draw the line: no help for Lehman

Paulson’s ultimatum rushed Lehman’s end

Winners and Losers after a historic weekend

Obama blames failures on Bush administration

McCain: We need regulation

Campaigns tiptoe around meltdown

Greenspan: U.S. in ‘once in a century’ crisis

Paulson vows to seek stability

Fed pumps in most money since 9/11

(A version of this post also appears on ArkansasBusiness.com’s Scanner blog.)