NC jobless rate falls below 9 percent

dbracken@newsobserver.comMay 17, 2013 

North Carolina’s unemployment rate fell for the third consecutive month in April, declining three-tenths of a percentage point to 8.9 percent. It marks the first time that the state’s jobless rate has been below 9 percent since January 2009.

North Carolina added 6,100 jobs in April after seasonal adjustments, according to a payroll survey of employers, and has now added 73,300 over the past year, an annual growth rate of 1.8 percent.

Although that rate could be better, Mark Vitner, a Wells Fargo economist in Charlotte, notes that North Carolina is continuing to add jobs at a slightly faster rate than the nation.

“If we continue to add 70,000 jobs a year, we will steadily chip away at the unemployment rate and eventually get a recovery that people recognize as a recovery,” Vitner said.

The largest job increases were reported in leisure and hospitality services (6,100), financial activities (2,000), government (1,300) and professional and business services (1,300). The largest job losses were in education and health services (2,100), other services (2,000) and manufacturing (1,900).

One sector that has yet to rebound, despite the recovery in the housing market, is construction. The state added 500 construction jobs in April but has lost 4,000 over the past year.

North Carolina’s jobless rate has now fallen six-tenths of a percentage point since the beginning of the year.

Still, the April report by the state’s Commerce Department’s Labor and Economic Analysis Division included some worrying trends.

Labor force contracts

The household survey, which estimates the size of the labor market, showed that the unemployment rate dropped at the same time that the labor force contracted.

The number of people employed in the state declined 4,188 over the month to 4,303,113, while the number of people unemployed fell 15,259 to 419,287.

“That to me is consistent with the story of people dropping out of the labor force altogether,” said John Quinterno of South by North Strategies, a Chapel Hill firm specializing in economic and social policy.

Quinterno said he will be watching to see whether the trend continues through the summer. He also worries about the quality of the jobs being creating, noting that leisure and hospitality services has accounted for nearly a third of all the jobs created in the state over the past year.

“Jobs may be being created, but are they being created in sectors that pay high wages?” Quinterno said.

Vitner said the slide in labor force participation appears to be bottoming out as the job market continues to improve.

“There seems to be enough improvement in the job market that fewer people are dropping out,” he said. “I don’t know if it’s enough improvement to pull people back in.”

Bracken: 919-829-4548

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