The state’s unemployment rate fell for the first time in five months but failed to keep pace with a sharp drop in the nationwide jobless rate.
North Carolina’s seasonally adjusted unemployment rate fell one-tenth of a percentage point to 9.6 percent in September, the state Division of Employment Security reported Friday. The rate had risen in July and August after remaining unchanged in May and June.
“This is undoubtedly positive news, in that we are showing improvement,” said Allen Fryer, public policy analyst for the N.C. Budget & Tax Center, a liberal public policy group. “But we are showing very, very sluggish improvement. In fact, we haven’t even reclaimed the ground we lost in the summer.”
The gap between the state and national unemployment rate widened. The national unemployment rate unexpectedly fell three-tenths of a percentage point to 7.8 percent in September, the first time since February 2009 that the national rate dropped below 8 percent.
Just four states had a higher unemployment rate than North Carolina in September: Nevada, 11.8 percent; Rhode Island, 10.5 percent; California, 10.2 percent; and New Jersey, 9.8 percent. At the other end of the spectrum, North Dakota led the nation with a 3 percent jobless rate.
The unemployment rate in North Carolina fell even though the state added just 100 jobs in September after seasonal adjustments, according to a survey of employers included in the state data.
The survey of households showed a very different picture – an increase of 29,232 jobs in the month. But many economists put more credence in the data obtained from employers, because it encompasses a larger sample and is based on employer records, whereas the household survey uses phone interviews.
The private sector actually added 1,500 jobs in the employer survey, but that gain was countered by a decrease of 1,400 government jobs after seasonal adjustments. The downturn in the government sector followed an increase of 8,400 government jobs in August, raising questions about flaws in the way the data is adjusted for seasonal factors.
The professional and business services sector led with a gain of 6,000 jobs in the employer survey in September, while construction jobs rose by 1,100. Wells Fargo economist Mark Vitner said a homebuilding revival in Raleigh and Charlotte is at play.
“We’re seeing folks that have been putting off buying who are now moving into the market,” Vitner said. “The mortgage rates have come down and there seems to be a lot more stability. Homebuilders don’t face as much competition from foreclosure as they did in the past.”
A weak spot in the state’s economy is the manufacturing sector, Vitner said. Many of the state’s manufacturers focus on goods for business, such as construction equipment from Caterpillar and jet engines from GE.
“That makes the economy a little more susceptible to swings in the global economy,” which has been slowing down, Vitner said.
A total of 448,332 people in North Carolina are unemployed after accounting for seasonal adjustment.
A year ago the state’s unemployment rate was 10.7 percent.
Michael Walden, an N.C. State University economist, projects more incremental job gains over the next few months.
“At this point, I think it’s in the bag that we’ll end the year (with an unemployment rate) above 9 percent,” Walden said.
County unemployment rates for September will be released Friday, Nov. 2. In August the jobless rate in the Triangle was 7.7 percent, according to state data seasonally adjusted by Wells Fargo in Charlotte.