Report: Arkansas’ unemployment rate improves 36.6% from 2020 to 2021


Arkansas ranked 11th in WalletHub's assessment of which states' unemployment rates are bouncing back the quickest since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The report's authors found Arkansas’ 3.1% unemployment rate in December 2021 to be a 36.6% improvement from its 4.2% unemployment rate in December 2020.

The report also sought experts who weighed in on what industries performed the best during the pandemic. Many said delivery services, online retailers and supermarkets and drugstores were winners, economically speaking, over the past two years.

“In general, industries and fields able to successfully offer goods and services that remain in demand are doing the best,” said David Yamada, a professor at Suffolk University Boston. “So, to name a few: Online retailers of many stripes, food and basic goods production and supply, delivery services, and supermarkets and drugstores. On-site service providers that continue to offer needed help, such as plumbers and home repair contractors, are also weathering the storm.”

Meanwhile, some industries once thought of as “recession proof” experienced a downturn, according to analysts. A surprising example was the health care industry, according to economics professor Michael Leeds of Temple University.

“For very good reasons, the current pandemic has displaced a great deal of ‘elective’ surgery,” Leeds said. “This is not just nose jobs and facelifts. It can also mean things like hip and knee replacements. The point is that such procedures are big money makers for hospitals, so some sectors might not be as immune to this downturn as they had been to previous recessions.”

Leeds said places such as grocery stores, though not experiencing a drop in demand, would continue to struggle as long as supply chains have problems.

“I am not optimistic that this will happen any time soon for the beef and meatpacking industries,” Leeds said. “Some companies will prosper. I wish I had stock in FedEx, UPS, and other delivery services.”

Jobs related to ecommerce, computer engineering and artificial intelligence are expected to thrive.

“The pandemic has accelerated already existing trends toward more automation and more online work,” said Ariana Levinson, a professor of law at the University of Louisville. “While I do not have a crystal ball, I predict that job skills in engineering and computer science will continue to be highly sought after. Other skills that require high-level expertise like information management, logistics, and medical research will continue to be needed.”

States that showed the most improvement in unemployment numbers were Nebraska, Utah, Oklahoma, Montana and Georgia. Those lagging at the bottom were New York, New Jersey, Nevada and California, according to the report.

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