State jobless rate falls for third straight month

With another decline, expert sees reason for optimism in new year

dbracken@newsobserver.comDecember 21, 2012 

— The state’s unemployment rate fell for the third consecutive month in November as the pace of job growth showed signs of picking up.

North Carolina’s seasonally adjusted unemployment rate fell two-tenths of a percentage point to 9.1 percent, the state Division of Employment Security reported Friday. The rate is now 1.3 percentage points below where it stood 12 months ago.

North Carolina added 30,600 jobs in November after seasonal adjustments, according to a payroll survey of employers included in the state data. The biggest job gains were reported in the trade, transportation and utilities sector, which added 7,300 jobs; professional and business services added 5,400. The state has now gained 60,000 jobs over the past year, an annual growth rate of about 1.5 percent.

While the state’s jobless rate remains well above the national rate of 7.7 percent, Michael Walden, an economist with N.C. State University, said there are reasons to be optimistic about next year. “I think the underlying fundamentals in the economy have ticked upward,” he said.

Walden said two key economic indicators – household finances and the housing market – are in considerably better shape than they were a year ago. “Those two are highly interrelated,” he said. “The crash in both of those really led to this deep recession.”

Walden is also buoyed by the fact that North Carolina has historically lagged the nation during the initial parts of economic recoveries, only to see its growth accelerate in the latter stages.

“We still have very good fundamentals for attracting businesses here,” he said.

Much of the discussion in recent weeks has focused on the dangers poised by going over the so-called fiscal cliff, the automatic federal spending cuts and tax increases scheduled to take place at the beginning of the year.

But Wells Fargo economist Mark Vitner said there’s little evidence that the threat of those cuts has hurt North Carolina’s economy.

“You would be hard-pressed to find evidence that the fiscal cliff has impacted the state’s economy all that much right now,” he said. “I think Europe’s financial problems have weighed on the state, and the manufacturing sector has struggled a bit because of the slowdown in the global economy. But that seems to be waning a bit.”

Vitner said some taxes are certain to rise next year, and the danger is that those increases will temporarily act as a drag on the economy. But he said several economic reports released Friday were encouraging.

New orders for manufactured durable goods rose more than expected in November, and the October increase in orders was revised upward. Such orders are an indication of business investment. Personal income also jumped 0.6 percent in November, the biggest gain in 11 months.

“It looks like the economy had a little bit more momentum going into the end of the year than we thought previously,” Vitner said. “So I think we’re going to be able to withstand the shock.”

Bracken: 919-829-4548

News & Observer is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Commenting FAQs | Terms of Service