Fourth Quarter Burgundy Books: Unemployment Lowest in Years

December 21, 2015
burgundy books

Around half of business contacts in three of the four St. Louis Fed zones expect local economic conditions to be better in 2016 than in 2015, according to the latest issues of the St. Louis Fed’s Burgundy Books. In the Memphis Zone, however, about 35 percent of contacts expect conditions to worsen, while 31 percent expect conditions to improve.


The St. Louis Zone’s unemployment rate averaged 5.2 percent in the third quarter. This is the lowest rate since the second quarter of 2007. However, job growth in the Zone remained slower than the national average.

In the Little Rock Zone, the unemployment rate averaged 5.1 percent in the third quarter, the lowest level since the third quarter of 2008. Twenty percent of hiring manager contacts in the Zone expect employment to increase in the first quarter compared with a year ago. The remainder expect employment to remain the same.

The unemployment rate in the Louisville Zone fell to 4.7 percent in the third quarter, which is the lowest level for the Zone since the second quarter of 2001. Employment in most of the Zone’s metropolitan statistical areas (MSAs) grew faster than the national average.

The Memphis Zone’s unemployment rate averaged 6.7 percent in the third quarter, which is 1.1 percentage points lower than one year earlier. This is the lowest rate since the first quarter of 2008. Anecdotal evidence from business contacts indicates that employment growth is expected to remain slow.


The St. Louis MSA residential housing market strengthened modestly in the third quarter. In the Springfield, Mo., MSA, however, single-family building permits fell sharply for the second consecutive quarter.

House prices were up from a year earlier in all six of the Little Rock Zone’s MSAs. Increases in house prices in the Hot Springs and Texarkana MSAs exceeded the national average. Single-family building permits rose at a faster pace than the nation in the third quarter in four of the Zone’s MSAs.

Residential real estate activity grew at a modest pace in the third quarter in the Louisville Zone. More than two-thirds of real estate contacts reported slightly higher to higher demand and slightly lower inventories in the fourth quarter.

Residential real estate activity in the Memphis Zone was weaker than in the nation in the third quarter. However, the Memphis MSA saw solid year-to-date growth of home sales, and the Jonesboro MSA experienced healthy house price gains over the past year.

Household Finances

Per capita auto debt balances in the third quarter rose by about 10 percent from the same period one year prior in the St. Louis Zone, the largest increase since the second quarter of 2004. Year-over-year income growth for the second quarter was 2.2 percent and 3.0 percent in Missouri and Illinois, respectively.

Mortgage debt in the Little Rock Zone rose in the third quarter from year-earlier levels for the first time since 2012. Per capita total debt balances in the Zone also rose in the third quarter.

On net, total per capita debt balances in the Louisville Zone rose modestly in the third quarter. Delinquency rates for credit cards and auto loans were largely unchanged. Second-quarter personal income growth slowed in both Indiana and Kentucky.

In the Memphis Zone, per capita mortgage debt as a share of total debt fell to its lowest level in about 15 years in the third quarter. However, per capita auto debt continued to rise rapidly.

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This blog offers relevant commentary, analysis, research and data from our economists and other St. Louis Fed experts. Views expressed are not necessarily those of the St. Louis Fed or Federal Reserve System.

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