Triangle jobless rate ticks up to 5.5%

The Triangle’s jobless rate inched up to 5.5 percent in August from 5.3 percent in July, returning to an unemployment level last seen in May.

The rate increased in both the Raleigh and the Durham metro areas.

The jobless data was issued Wednesday by the Labor and Economic Analysis Division within the N.C. Department of Commerce, and seasonally adjusted by Wells Fargo.

The national jobless rate for August was 6.1 percent, and 6.8 percent in North Carolina, well above the Triangle’s, which remains one of the state’s strongest regional economies. Comparable unemployment in the Triangle has not been seen for about year, when the region’s rate was at 6.5 percent in August 2013.

Even as the size of the labor force decreased in 10 of the state’s 14 metro areas in the past year, the Raleigh-Cary and Durham-Chapel Hill regions, which make up the Triangle, have been the exceptions. The expansion of the labor force here is now preventing the unemployment rate from dropping.

“It seems that the pace of hiring is picking up,” said Wells Fargo economist Mark Vitner. “But along with that pickup in employment we’ve seen people returning to the labor force, which makes it hard to keep down the unemployment rate.”

Vitner noted that 1,900 people dropped out of the Triangle’s labor force in August. But in the past 12 months, the Triangle’s labor force has grown by 12,100.

The Triangle added 4,000 jobs in August on top of adding 5,700 jobs in July. Much of the growth was in professional services, including the technology sector, and in the hospitality sector. Taken together, Triangle job growth in the past two months accounts for more than half the 16,800 jobs added in the region in 2014, suggesting a recent surge of hiring.

The region appears to be poised to add between 20,000 and 25,000 jobs this year, the amount that would be needed to sustain economic recovery, Vitner said. Over the past 12 months, the Triangle has added 29,900 jobs.

In terms of the number of jobs and number of people working, the Triangle has surpassed levels set when the recession hit in December 2007. But more people are unemployed here than six years ago.

“If you put it in a historical objective standpoint, we still have an unemployment problem that is much more pronounced than it was six years ago,” said John Quinterno, principal at South by North Strategies, a research firm in Chapel Hill. “The recovery has dragged on so long that people have lost perspective on what a good labor market looks like.”

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