NC jobless rate dips to 6.7%, but labor force keeps shrinking

North Carolina’s jobless rate dipped to 6.7 percent in September from 6.8 percent the month before and is hovering at the same level as in January.

The state gained 16,700 jobs in September, and there were 5,622 fewer people unemployed – both good signs. But the labor force shrank by 10,200 people last month, suggesting that the third piece of the economic puzzle is still not in place.

Still, economists said the overall trends are strong in North Carolina, particularly the 2.7 percent job growth here in the past year, compared with 1.9 percent nationally, representing more than 108,000 jobs added over the past 12 months.

“Things are looking mostly healthy,” said Richard Kaglic, a senior regional economist at the Charlotte Branch of the Richmond Federal Reserve Bank. “Labor demand – employers who want to hire – remains firm.”

The unemployment data was issued Tuesday by the N.C. Department of Commerce. Unemployment claims, another key measure of the employment market, were slightly higher in September than in August, but still the second-lowest in at least two years.

Based on the preponderance of evidence, Wells Fargo economist Mark Vitner said the jobless rate, which is based on a household survey of a small population sample, could be lower than it appears.

“The unemployment rate is really the odd man out here,” Vitner said. “Sometimes the statistics don’t make sense, and you have to use your common sense.”

North Carolina’s unemployment had slipped to as low as 6.2 percent in April during an unusual three-month stretch when the state’s jobless rate was lower than the national average. But in September, the national jobless rate was down to 5.9 percent compared with North Carolina’s 6.7 percent.

More than half the September job gains were posted in professional and business services, education and health services and financial activities. The biggest sectors with job losses were government, and leisure and hospitality.

In terms of raw job creation, North Carolina’s economy now has the same number of jobs – 4.2 million – as it did in December 2007 on the eve of the recession. But at that time, the statewide jobless rate was 5 percent.

By other measures, the state has not caught up to the pre-recession economy. In December 2007, for example, the jobless rolls had 228,720 people, compared with 310,279 unemployed North Carolinians last month.