The Triangle’s unemployment rate inched upward in December even though the region added jobs once again, with both data points mirroring trends previously reported for the month at the state level.
The Triangle’s unemployment rate, which was released by the state Department of Commerce on Wednesday and seasonally adjusted by Wells Fargo, rose to 4.3 percent in December, up one-tenth of a percentage point from November’s revised rate of 4.2 percent.
At the same time, however, the number of nonfarm jobs, based on a survey of employers, rose by 4,300 workers during the month.
“When you look at where we’re at right now, the economy is very close to what most economists would call full employment,” said Wells Fargo economist Mark Vitner. “With the unemployment rate as low as it is, more job seekers are being pulled back into the workforce – folks that had given up on looking for work because they didn’t think they could find meaningful work are now coming back into the workforce to find jobs.”
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Indeed, the region’s labor force – which includes both those who have jobs plus those actively seeking work – rose by 11,800 workers in December. That explains why the unemployment rate rose despite an increase in the number of jobs.
The same thing happened at the state level in December, with the unemployment rate rising one-tenth of a percentage point to 5.1 percent even though the state added jobs during the month.
Over the past 12 months, the Triangle’s unemployment rate has declined by six-tenths of a percentage point. The Triangle also added 21,000 nonfarm jobs in all of 2016.
Vitner believes that when the job numbers for 2016 are revised in about a month, the data will show that the Triangle actually added somewhere between 35,000 and 40,000 jobs during the year.
“We are seeing solid job growth across most of the key categories, led by the technology sector and the life sciences,” Vitner said.
Vitner projects that the Triangle will continue to see solid job growth this year.
“Right now 2017 looks like it will be a really good year for the Triangle,” he said. “I would be surprised if we added less than 30,000 jobs in 2017.”
Vitner projects that the unemployment rate at the end of this year will “probably be right around 4 percent or a little bit less” because the labor force will also continue to grow.