North Carolina’s unemployment rate rose in August to its highest point since the end of last year even as the state added jobs during the month.
The state’s seasonally adjusted jobless rate increased from 6.5 percent to 6.8 percent, the N.C. Department of Commerce reported Friday.
It was the second straight month that the unemployment rate has risen following more than a year marked by a steady decline.
Despite August’s higher jobless rate, N.C. State University economist Michael Walden viewed the latest data as “moderately positive” thanks to “a fairly healthy increase in jobs.”
“Don’t get real hung up on the unemployment rate, especially month-to-month changes,” Walden said. “The better (data) is to look at the job changes. Do more people have jobs?”
The state added 12,500 jobs in August. That growth was led by an increase of 8,500 government jobs as well as 2,700 jobs in the education and health services sector and 2,500 in the professional and business services sector.
Some of those government jobs could reflect early teacher hires, “but even if you take those out, we had a gain of 4,000 private sector jobs,” said Walden.
In August, the ranks of the unemployed increased by 10,404, or 3.4 percent, during the month to 314,962.
The job numbers are based on a survey of employers, while the number of unemployed is derived from a survey of households. Both surveys are based on sampling, but the employer survey involves a larger sample, so economists tend to have greater confidence in those numbers.
“This is a case, and it is not unusual, where one of the reports is negative and one of the reports is positive,” Walden said.
Wells Fargo economist Mark Vitner also was upbeat based on the job-growth numbers.
“I have no doubt in my mind that North Carolina’s labor market is improving,” Vitner said. “We’re hearing more and more that employers are having a little difficulty finding the workers that they need, and that workers, job seekers, are becoming more selective and are turning down jobs.”
But John Quinterno of South by North Strategies, a Chapel Hill firm specializing in economic and social policy, said the job growth numbers weren’t nearly as strong as they need to be.
“We continue to be mired in a painfully slow recovery,” he said. “We’re still about 14,000 jobs short of where we were in December of 2007.”
The size of the state’s labor force fell by 18,262, or four-tenths of a percent, during August. The labor force represents employed plus unemployed workers; however, people who aren’t actively seeking work aren’t counted as unemployed by government statisticians, even if they want to work.
“Roughly half the decline in unemployment we’ve seen year-over-year in terms of the number of unemployed persons is due to labor force contraction,” Quinterno said. “That isn’t necessarily a good thing.”
Some of the decline in the labor force numbers can be attributed to young people staying in school longer and baby boomers retiring, said Walden. But there’s also a more worrisome trend.
“There are a lot of folks finding that can’t find a job because they don’t have the right skills” and have therefore given up looking, Walden said. “This is particularly the case for young males.”
North Carolina’s jobless remains above the national rate, which was 6.1 percent in August. The state rate was 6.9 percent in December.
Local unemployment numbers for August will be released Wednesday, Oct. 1. The Triangle’s seasonally adjusted unemployment rate was 5.3 percent in July.