Area unemployment rate ticks up in January

The unemployment rate for Pine Bluff in January was 11.9 percent, which is up from the December 2011 rate of 11.5 percent according to data released Friday by the Arkansas Department of Workforce Services.

The November 2011 rate for Pine Bluff was 11 percent.

The unemployment rate for Jefferson County in January was 10.5 percent, which is up from the December 2011 rate of 10 percent according to the ADWS.

The Jefferson County rate for November 2011 was 9.4 percent.

The Arkansas unemployment rate in January was reported at 7.6 percent March 13, a two-tenths of a percentage point decline from the 7.8 percent December rate which was revised up from 7.7 percent by the ADWS.

William Campbell, Pine Bluff local office manager with the ADWS, said that his office was continuing to see people who are out of work file for unemployment insurance extensions.

“We’ve got a lot of unemployment extensions going on, and with the quarter change coming up on April 1 we will have more,” Campbell said. “The labor market in the area is picking up some. We have the new [Horizon Foods] chicken plant coming to town and folks have already submitted 1,000 to 2,000 applications. I believe they plan to get going by May 1. U.S. Steel is also doing some hiring.”

Chris Hart, chairman of the Pine Bluff Regional Chamber of Commerce, was hopeful about future employment prospects for the area.

“Thing are really more stagnant than anything else right now,” Hart said. “Sometimes holding your own and treading water is a victory in itself. As the market fluctuates, the cost of oil continues to rise and the cost of doing business continues to escalate, keeping the same amount of manpower is a victory in itself.”

Hart counsels patience in waiting for the economy to grow while acknowledging the difficulty inherent in being able to do so.

“Sometimes the best approach is being patient,” Hart said. “While we continue to strategize for the future, it is tough to do so in an unstable business climate. So many of our local businesses have been around for so long that they are seasoned and tenured and ready to come back stronger than before, and that is our full intention.”