Triangle unemployment rate drops to 4.5%

The Triangle’s unemployment rate dropped for a third consecutive month in December, which is encouraging news for job-seekers but not so much for employers in hiring mode.

The local unemployment rate in December was 4.5 percent, down from 4.7 percent in November, according to data released Wednesday. The local unemployment rate has been below the 5 percent barrier since October; previously, it hadn’t been that low since mid-2008.

“With the jobless rate below 5 percent, we are hearing more and more from employers that they are having difficulty finding the skilled workers that they need,” Wells Fargo economist Mark Vitner wrote in an email.

A year ago, the Triangle’s unemployment rate was 5.4 percent.

“Job growth continues to be driven by hiring in the tech sector, life sciences and leisure and hospitality,” Vitner said. “This means that the strongest growth is occurring at the extremes, with high-paying, high-skilled jobs growing and relatively low-paying, low-skilled jobs growing rapidly.”

On the other hand, jobs in the middle aren’t growing as fast, he added.

The latest Triangle job data was released by the N.C. Department of Commerce and seasonally adjusted by Wells Fargo.

The Triangle unemployment rate for November previously was reported at 4.8 percent but has been revised a notch lower to 4.7 percent.

James Kleckley, an economist at East Carolina University, is dubious about the accuracy of the unemployment data – which are estimates derived from surveys – but he said it’s clear that the Triangle and the state as a whole are moving in the right direction.

“Regardless of which measure you look at,” he said, “the economy is improving. It’s just a matter of how improved are we really.”

As for the Triangle economy in particular, he noted: “The investment in the Research Triangle that the state made years ago is still paying off.”

The state’s jobless rate in December was 5.5 percent, its lowest point since April 2008 and below the national average of 5.6 percent. The state has gained 114,500 jobs over the past year, an annual job growth rate of 2.8 percent.

That was well above the national average of 2.1 percent.