RALEIGH — Statewide unemployment inched up to a record 11.2 percent last month as North Carolina's job market was flooded by 11,000 more job seekers in February than the previous month.
The jobless numbers, reported Friday by the N.C. Employment Security Commission, represent the highest unemployment rate since the state began tracking records using the current methodology in 1976.
The commission said that 510,774 people were without work in February.
At the same time, however, February showed some signs of improvement. The state gained 2,836 jobs, according to the monthly household survey. That is the third consecutive monthly jobs gain for the state after 22 straight dismal months of job losses, according to the survey.
The 11,000 job seekers who came into the job market represent people moving to the state, people looking for work for the first time, and jobless people resuming their job searches. Jobless rates tend to rise when local economies are saturated with new workers who haven't found employment.
Taken together, the gain in jobs and increase in job seekers should be taken as healthy signs, said Michael Walden, an economist at N.C. State University.
"As people perceive the market is improving, they start sending out résumés and going on job interviews," Walden said.
But for thousands of people, February wasn't much different from January or any other month in the past two years.
"There's no opportunity out there whatsoever," said J.C. Lay, a Durham resident who has been looking for work for 18 months. "I've sent out beaucoups of résumés. I'm constantly networking with people in my community, in my church, with my friends."
Lay has worked for IBM, Nortel Networks, the city of Durham and, most recently, as a hospital field technician. He's looking for work in telecommunications or medical instrument calibration.
Last month the construction sector lost 2,400 jobs, the most for any sector in the state. The education and health services sector gained the most jobs, adding 2,600.
The statewide jobless rate is higher than the nation's 9.7 percent rate in February and the Triangle's latest rate of 8.9 percent for January.
The commission had previously reported that the state jobless rate hit a record of 11.2 percent in December, but the agency later revised the figure down to 10.9 percent. Commission spokesman Larry Parker said that it's possible that February's record rate could also be revised.
As more people enter the job market, the jobless rate could continue getting worse.
"So many people left the work force and went to community college," said Wells Fargo economist Mark Vitner. "Many of those folks are going to be finishing those programs in the summer."
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