The Triangle unemployment rate fell in September, returning to a level it had earlier reached this summer.
The rate declined from 5.5 percent to 5.3 percent, according to data issued Wednesday by the Labor and Economic Analysis Division within the N.C. Department of Commerce, and seasonally adjusted by Wells Fargo.
The jobless rate has bounced up and down in recent months between a low of 5 percent in June and a high of 5.8 percent in November.
Wells Fargo economist Mark Vitner said he believes the latest drop in the jobless rate is a good indication of how the region’s economy is performing.
“I think the current number is pretty reflective of where the Triangle is in the recovery process,” he said, noting the jobless rate has now fallen 1.2 percentage points over the past year. “Hiring has picked up; it’s picked up across most industries. The improvement is significant enough that most people see it in their day-to-day lives.”
The Triangle added 600 jobs in September and has now added 21,000 jobs over the past 12 months – an annual growth rate of just under 2.5 percent.
While the region is not creating jobs as rapidly as it did before the recession, N.C. State University economist Michael Walden said 2.5 percent is still about double the annual job growth rate for the U.S.
“All businesses are looking to this area as a place to expand. People want to live here,” Walden said. “So all that’s contributing to a very vibrant economy and job market.”
The Triangle continues to be one of the best performing areas of the state. North Carolina’s jobless rate was 6.7 percent in September, while the national rate was 5.9 percent.
Vitner said the Triangle and the Charlotte area have accounted for nearly 80 percent of the state’s job growth since the end of the recession. That narrative has slowly started to change over the last six to nine months, with other areas of the state starting to show improvement, Vitner said.
Walden said as the recovery continues, he expects the counties close to the state’s metro areas to be the next to benefit.
“The very rural counties are still struggling,” Walden said. “But a lot of the counties that are around metropolitan areas that you may classify as rural, those are the ones that I think are really poised to see some strong growth as businesses look at land prices and look at other factors.”
In particular, he said, this dynamic should help the counties in the central part of the state from the Triangle west to the Triad and south to Charlotte.
As for what explains the volatility of the jobless data over the past six months, Vitner said the severity of the downturn is partially to blame.
“The unusual circumstances that surrounded the recession and the slow recovery in employment in the aftermath of the recession, they continue to reverberate in the labor market statistics,” he said. “They’ve led to more volatility in the labor market data because we haven’t had a recession this deep before.”