NC jobless rate falls to 8 percent in October

dbracken@newsobserver.comNovember 22, 2013 

North Carolina’s unemployment rate fell for the third straight month in October and is now at its lowest point in nearly five years.

The state’s seasonally adjusted jobless rate in October was 8 percent, down from 8.3 percent in September, the state’s Commerce Department’s Labor and Economic Analysis Division reported Friday. The rate has fallen 1.4 percentage points during the past 12 months and is at its lowest rate since November 2008.

North Carolina added 22,200 jobs during the month, according to a payroll survey of employers, and has added 80,100 jobs over the past year, an annual growth rate of 2 percent.

The 22,200 jobs North Carolina added in October was the third-largest gain among all states during that period, said Mark Vitner, an economist with Wells Fargo in Charlotte.

“That’s the first time I can remember North Carolina being in the top three at any point in this recovery,” he said. “And the gap between North Carolina’s unemployment rate and the nation’s unemployment rate has really narrowed.”

That gap was 1.6 percentage points in January but is now seven-tenths of a percentage point. North Carolina has the 13th-highest unemployment rate in the country. The national jobless rate is 7.3 percent.

“We have a lot of folks moving to the Carolinas and it makes it tougher to reduce the unemployment rate,” Vitner said. “So obviously the state is growing faster than the nation.”

The largest job gains during the month were in education and health services (7,600), professional and business services (6,400) and government (6,200). The financial activities sector lost 4,200 jobs while construction declined by 500.

While the sharp decline in the jobless rate has been a welcome development for the state’s economy, some dispute whether the recovery is gaining steam.

John Quinterno of South by North Strategies, an economic and social policy consulting firm in Chapel Hill, said the improving jobless rate belies serious problems in the state’s labor market.

“That looks good, but then when you get below it, the reason it’s coming down is the continued exiting of people from the labor force,” he said. “That’s very alarming.”

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 increased 6,225 during the month to 4,294,153, while the number of people unemployed fell 18,542 to 371,756.

Quinterno said the state’s labor force participation rate fell to 61.4 percent in October, the lowest monthly rate recorded since 1976.

“Really, what we’re seeing is a breakdown of the unemployment rate as a storytelling measure because of larger economic conditions,” Quinterno said. “When you look at these measures of labor utilization they tell a very different story and a very disturbing story.”

The state did not release unemployment figures for September because of the government shutdown. The rate declined four-tenths of a percentage point from August to September.

 

Bracken: 919-829-4548; Twitter: @brackendavid

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