State unemployment rate ticks up to 9.2 percent

dbracken@newsobserver.comJanuary 18, 2013 

After falling for three consecutive months, the state’s unemployment rate ticked up in December.

North Carolina’s seasonally adjusted unemployment rate rose one-tenth of a percentage point to 9.2 percent, the state Division of Employment Security reported Friday. The rate is now 1.2 percentage points below where it stood 12 months ago.

It remains well above the national rate of 7.8 percent.

North Carolina added 7,900 jobs in December after seasonal adjustments, according to a payroll survey of employers included in the state data. The biggest job gains were reported in education and health services, which added 5,900 jobs, and professional and business services, which added 5,000. The “financial activities” sector lost 2,000 jobs and leisure and hospitality services declined by 1,300.

The state has now gained 72,400 jobs – all but 300 of them in the private sector – over the past year, an annual growth rate of 1.8 percent. In 2011, the state added about 33,000 jobs, a growth rate of less than 1 percent.

“The rate of growth is still low relative to how bad the situation we got ourselves into was,” said John Quinterno of South by North Strategies, a Chapel Hill firm specializing in economic and social policy.

Quinterno said it remains to be seen how permanent some of last year’s job growth will prove to be. A large percentage of North Carolina’s job growth last year occurred in November, when the state added 30,600 jobs.

Quinterno said a significant number of those jobs may have been temporary retail positions that will go away in the early part of this year. He said while it’s good that the state is creating jobs, it’s also important that growth occurs in fields that pay wages and benefits that will provide a lasting foundation for a recovery.

“I think the numbers look good for the year, relatively speaking, but a lot of that really is driven by some stuff in November that may or may not get reversed,” he said.

Even if that ends up being the case, Mark Vitner, a Wells Fargo economist, said he’s encouraged by the job growth that occurred last year. He notes that all but three sectors – construction, mining and logging, and other services – added jobs in 2012.

“When we look at the numbers we see broadening momentum across the state,” he said, noting that the housing market recovery should lead to a better job market for construction workers.

Vitner believes the current data likely understates recent improvements in North Carolina’s economy, and he expects the jobs numbers to be revised upward next month. While there remain concerns over whether the debate in Washington over raising the debt ceiling is hurting consumer confidence, Vitner said he feels better about the U.S. economy today than he has at any time since the recession ended.

“When I look at the employment numbers and I look at the economic data in general I see a more broad-based recovery in place,” he said.

Bracken: 919-829-4548

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