The state’s unemployment rate fell to 5.1 percent in May, the lowest it’s been since early 2008.
The jobless rate fell three-tenths of a percentage point compared to April and has dropped from 5.8 percent a year ago, according to data released Friday by the N.C. Department of Commerce.
The state’s overall job market, however, isn’t as rosy as the declining unemployment rate makes it appear, said John Quinterno of South by North Strategies, a Chapel Hill firm specializing in economic and social policy.
“The unemployment rate has its virtues, it has its strengths, but it is one indicator among many,” Quinterno said.
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“I think it’s good the unemployment rate has gone down,” he added, “but what we are seeing is nothing where we should be jumping up and down and celebrating.”
The unemployment rate, which is pegged to a survey of households, showed that the number of people classified as unemployed across the state dropped by 13,589 to 250,544.
However, at the same time the number of nonfarm jobs – which is derived from a separate survey of employers – fell by 1,600 during the month.
It’s not unusual for the numbers from the two surveys to contradict each other. Many economists put more stock in the nonfarm job data because the survey of employers uses a larger sample size.
“Even though we have seen improvement in the unemployment rate so far in 2016, we’ve actually seen very little job growth this year,” Quinterno said. “We’ve only netted about 32,700 jobs so far in 2016.”
In addition, Quinterno said, not all jobs are created equal.
“We are definitely not seeing any upward pressure on people’s wages in this state,” he said. “As a result, when you look at data from the Census Bureau ... median household incomes are lower than they were when the recovery started.”
Mekael Teshome, an economist with PNC Financial Services Group, said that although the loss of jobs in May was a negative, the longer-term picture is better.
“Overall, once you look through the month-to-month volatility, North Carolina’s labor market continues to heal ... and improve,” Teshome said. “The rate of job growth is faster than the U.S. rate” on a year-over-year basis.
North Carolina has added 78,100 jobs over the past 12 months.
An expanding population, fueled by people and businesses moving to North Carolina, is helping to fuel the overall growth in jobs by creating greater demand for goods and services, Teshome said.
The state unemployment rate remains higher than the national jobless rate, which was 4.7 percent in May.