The number of unemployment claims filed in Arkansas in response to COVID-19 job losses continues to grow as part of the ever-growing number of claims throughout the United States.
Arkansas as of Saturday had 16,745 initial unemployment claims and 106,460 weekly unemployment claims filed in the state. These are the latest figures in the 170,000 unemployment claims filed as of April 24 in the state, according to Arkansas Secretary of Commerce Mike Preston.
These numbers come in the wake of the United States Labor Department announcement than 3.8 million Americans had filed unemployment claims the week prior. Arkansas as of April 24 had around 170,000 unemployment claims, according to Preston.
The country is now up to around 30 million claims over six weeks.
GoYe Employment Services CEO Miles Crawford said the jobs lost in the Fort Smith region include manufacturing and specialized retail, which have taken a hit because demand for their products has dropped. But at the same time, workers in healthcare, fast food and grocery generally have job security, he said.
But jobs in these industries can be quantified through unemployment numbers, Crawford said. He said he’s seen other jobs like contractors and other self-employed workers take a big hit during the pandemic.
“Those numbers are so much harder to quantify because they’re not W-2 taxes,” he said.
Crawford said he is not as concerned about the unemployment numbers as he is the labor force participation rate, which in March 2020 was at 62.7%. Workforce participation rate is comprised of United States residents ages 16-60 who are not institutionalized in some capacity.
Crawford predicted employers after the outbreak may return “with a more lean operation” than before.
“I would not be surprised to see that drop to maybe even 60%, because even after this, you’re going to have a lot of people who are going to be either laid off or furloughed,” he said. “There’s always people in that group who aren’t able to go back, and that’s for myriad reasons.”
Crawford said the workforce after the pandemic will have to look for “gig economy,” or independent, jobs. He said many of the jobs created since 2005 are at least somewhat geared in this direction, which he believes will be a much more sustainable route for the workforce in the future.
Even with this workforce trend, Arkansas officials still wish to help businesses hit hardest by the pandemic. State officials on Wednesday “prematurely” launched the Ready For Business Grant program, which drew around 2,300 businesses that applied for $36 million in grants within an hour it was live, Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson said at his Thursday news conference.
Of the applicants, 925 had fewer than 50 employees and 59% had fewer than 10 employees, Hutchinson said.
“It shows that it’s really going to the people who were targeted, which is primarily those who are struggling, who have had their businesses impacted, the smaller businesses,” he said. “We want others to have access to it, but I was delighted that 92% of applicants in that short window period came from the very small business category of fewer than 50 employees.”