North Carolina’s unemployment rate remained unchanged at 5.9 percent in August as the state added a meager 700 jobs during the month.
The state’s seasonally adjusted jobless rate is just one-tenth of a percent lower than a year ago and is up from a low of 5.3 percent at the outset of the year. The state’s unemployment rate also remains above the national average of 5.1 percent for August.
Still, economists were upbeat about the overall job market data reported Friday by the Labor and Economic Analysis Division of the N.C. Department of Commerce.
“I think it’s a fairly positive report,” said Wells Fargo economist Mark Vitner.
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Vitner cautioned against viewing the unemployment rate as an economic bellwether.
“If you look at labor market conditions within North Carolina, they show much more improvement than the unemployment rate does,” he said.
Over the past 12 months, he noted, the number of North Carolina jobs has risen by 2.6 percent, compared with 2.1 percent growth nationwide.
“North Carolina’s job growth has been pretty strong,” he said. “Businesses and job seekers are moving to the state in increasing numbers.”
Economists consider the job numbers derived from surveying employers more reliable than the unemployment data, which is based on a survey of households, because the former has a larger sample size.
Vitner projects that the state’s unemployment rate will decline during the remainder of the year.
But, he added, “there are some issues. Certainly there are people who are underemployed. There’s people that lost jobs during the recession (and) haven’t been able to find jobs.”
Rick Kaglic, an economist in the Charlotte branch of the Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond, said the official tally of just 700 jobs added during the month is misleading because it was weighed down by a reduction of 3,600 government jobs.
“Absent that declining government employment, private sector job growth remains very strong in North Carolina,” he said. “...We’re looking at a private sector gain of about 4,300 jobs during the month.”
In addition, Kaglic said, government employment numbers during the summer months are suspect because some public school districts pay teachers over nine months, which means those teachers show up in the ranks of the unemployed in the government data. Even though the data are adjusted for seasonal factors, the government job numbers still end up fluctuating.
Overall the state’s economy is on “a very health growth trajectory,” Kaglic said.
Local unemployment rates for August are scheduled to be released Sept. 30. The Triangle’s seasonally adjusted unemployment rate was 5 percent in July.