NC jobless rate dips but job growth remains sluggish

rbutt@newsobserver.comSeptember 20, 2013 

— North Carolina’s unemployment rate fell to its lowest level in more than four years despite ongoing concerns about the state’s sluggish job growth.

The state’s seasonally adjusted unemployment rate declined from 8.9 percent in July to 8.7 percent last month, according to data released Friday by the state Department of Commerce’s Labor and Economic Analysis Division.

The jobless rate is the lowest it’s been since December 2008, when the recession took hold. But the recent declines have been driven in part by people exiting the labor market.

The state’s seasonally adjusted labor force declined 12,303 last month to 4.68 million. Over the past 12 months the labor force has shrunk by 38,967.

Job seekers such as Angel Sutton of Raleigh say quality jobs remain scarce despite the lower unemployment rate.

Sutton, 46, has been out of work since February when she was laid off from a nonprofit job she’d held for seven years. She said in the past she’s always been able to find a new job when she changed careers.

“Before I could get a job in a snap when I wanted a change, but now it’s getting to the point of desperation,” Sutton said.

North Carolina lost 1,700 jobs over the month, and has now added 66,700 jobs over the past 12 months, an annual growth rate of 1.7 percent.

The unemployment rate and the jobs numbers rely on different surveys. The unemployment rate is based on a series of household interviews, while the jobs numbers are derived from surveys of employers.

The job declines last month were led by the government sector, which lost 6,800; leisure and hospitality, which lost 2,800; and construction, which shed 1,700 jobs. The housing market has been one of the strongest performers this year amid a sluggish economy, but to date the improvements have not been reflected in the state’s labor market data.

“The trends we’ve been seeing here are fairly consistent, but one of the industries we’re looking to improve next year is construction,” said Wells Fargo economist Mark Vitner.

The largest job gains last month were reported in professional and business services, which added 3,300; education and health services, which added 2,900; and trade, transportation and utilities, which added 2,800.

Timothy Miles, who’s been a consultant with the Orange County JobLink Career Center for the past 10 years, said more job seekers are applying for positions and seeking training in home health care and construction.

“There is a growing demand for nursing programs and construction training,” Miles said. “But I also see more professionals in the tech and education industry coming in … a lot of them are getting certifications to become more specialized.”

North Carolina now has the sixth-worst jobless rate in the country. The national unemployment rate fell one-tenth of a percentage point last month to 7.3 percent, the lowest its been since December 2008.

Butt: 919-829-4523

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