The Triangle unemployment rate edged lower in March to 4.7 percent even as the region lost 1,400 jobs.
The jobless rate fell one-tenth of a percentage point from 4.8 percent in February, according to data released Wednesday by the Labor and Economic Analysis Division of the N.C. Department of Commerce. The numbers were seasonally adjusted by Wells Fargo Securities in Charlotte.
The slowdown in hiring was not entirely unexpected, said Mark Vitner, a Wells Fargo economist.
“What we are seeing in the Carolinas is similar to what is occurring nationwide,” he said. “Inventories have built up, particularly at firms that export. That has led to some pullback in hours worked.”
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He noted that weather and the stronger dollar may also have contributed to the lack of hiring, particularly in the manufacturing sector.
Despite the monthly decline in March, the Triangle continues to add jobs at a much faster rate than the rest of the country. Over the past year, the Raleigh-Cary area has added 18,800 jobs, a 3.4 percent gain. The Durham-Chapel Hill area has added 6,500 jobs, a 2.3 percent gain. Combined, the Triangle is experiencing annual job growth of about 3 percent, well above the 2 percent reported by the rest of the country.
“We’re growing considerably faster than the rest of the country and the quality of jobs is also a bit better because it’s more heavily weighted toward tech jobs, which tend to be relatively high paying,” Vitner said of the Triangle. “But there’s also a very large number of part-time, hospitality jobs.”
The region’s unemployment rate remains significantly below the state rate of 5.4 percent and the national rate of 5.5 percent.
N.C. State University economist Michael Walden said he’s watching closely to see how the state’s economy performs in the near-term, as the stronger growth that North Carolina experienced at the end of last year does not appear to be carrying over to 2015.
“We may see a slightly slower pace in the Triangle from what it’s been but it’s still going to be growing at a much faster rate than the state,” he said.
Vitner said the economy may be entering a mid-cycle slowdown where economic growth will lag for six to nine months, and that may result in the jobless rate ticking up a few tenths of a percentage point. But he said overall the economy has more bright spots than areas of concern. That is particularly true for the state’s two largest metro areas.
“Charlotte and Raleigh are both booming right now,” he said, noting the preponderance of construction cranes now dotting both skylines. “ ... A lot of that growth has occurred fairly close in to the city, which has helped to support all that urban development.”