Triangle unemployment rate falls slightly in June

kblunt@newsobserver.comJuly 30, 2013 

The unemployment rate in the Triangle fell in June for the fifth consecutive month.

The region’s jobless rate dipped from 7.4 percent in May to 7.2 percent in June, according to data issued by the N.C. Department of Commerce and seasonally adjusted by Wells Fargo economists in Charlotte.

In Raleigh, the June unemployment rate fell to 7.2 from 7.3 percent the previous month, while the rate in Durham remained at 6.9 percent.

From May to June, the Raleigh-Cary metropolitan area added 1,800 jobs. Durham and Chapel Hill lost 4,400, mostly in the government and educational sectors.

“It’s difficult to compare jobs in May and June because of the end of the school year,” said Mark Vitner, a senior economist at Wells Fargo in Charlotte. “It depends on how teachers are paid. Some are paid on a nine-month salary.”

Raleigh and Cary have added about 6,000 jobs over the past 12 months, boosting the total number to 529,000, about 7,000 more than the pre-recession peak.

Durham and Chapel Hill have added about 3,400 jobs during the past 12 months, raising the total to 284,000. Before the recession, the number of jobs peaked at 286,000.

Despite the number of jobs added, the unemployment rate remains considerably higher than it was before the recession. In June 2008, the statewide unemployment rate was 5.2 percent.

“We have a bigger labor force than we did before the recession, and we have more people who are employed, but we have many more people who are unemployed and a higher rate of unemployment,” said John Quinterno of South by North Strategies, an economic and social policy consulting firm in Chapel Hill. “The Triangle has held up well relative to other areas, but by its own standards it’s not doing very well.”

Some sectors have performed better than others in terms of job growth. During the past 12 months, the professional services and private sectors have added 4,200 and 9,200 jobs in the Triangle, respectively. The leisure and hospitality sector has added 2,500 jobs, and the retail sector has added 1,600.

Michael Walden, an economist at N.C. State University, said the increase in leisure and hospitality shows the economy is bouncing back.

“During the recession, people refrained from spending a lot on leisure because that’s an easy place to cut back on,” he said.

But Quinterno said it may be a harbinger of a larger problem.

“A lot of the growth we’ve seen has been concentrated in food service, retail and professional services, and my ongoing concern is those are sectors that have jobs with relatively low pay and of relatively low quality,” he said. “Those tend to be jobs people take when they feel their options are constrained. Did we lose better-paying jobs and replace them with lower-paying jobs during the upswing? You have to look at what’s going on there.”

Wells Fargo forecasts that the Triangle will add about 20,000 jobs this year, with growth concentrated in the business services and leisure and hospitality sectors. It expects education and health care to grow as well.

The national unemployment rate remained at 7.6 percent in June. North Carolina has the fifth-highest unemployment rate in the country.

Blunt: 919-829-8985

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