N.C. unemployment rate dips

The unemployment rate across North Carolina fell two-tenths of a percent to 9.2 percent in March, which can be viewed as a sign that the economy is inching forward.

“We’re going in the right direction. We’re not going fast enough, which is pretty much what I have said for the past couple of years,” said James Kleckley, an economist at East Carolina University. “Even though the unemployment rate fell, it’s still way too high.”

Data released Friday by the state Commerce Department’s Labor and Economic Analysis Division showed 435,209 people unemployed statewide in March, down 11,619 from February.

The unemployment rate fell from 9.4 percent to 9.2 percent even though the number of jobs inched slightly lower because the number of people in the workforce also declined. Meanwhile, the labor force declined by one-half percent, or 22,573.

Kleckley called the ever-so-slight decline of 300 jobs statewide “a statistical anomaly.”

“These really are estimates,” he said of the data. “They aren’t (actual) counts of people working.”

A year ago the state’s unemployment rate stood at 9.4 percent. Until Friday’s report, the rate had been oscillating between 9.4 percent and 9.6 percent since the start of 2012.

Kleckley expects the state’s unemployment rate to fall below 9 percent later this year, ending up somewhere between 8 and 8.5 percent. That would still be high by historical standards and would leave the state lagging behind the national rate, which was 7.6 percent in March.

John Quinterno of South by North Strategies, a Chapel Hill firm specializing in economic and social policy, was even more pessimistic about the latest unemployment data. Calling the results lackluster would be a charitable assessment, he said.

“We had no net job growth in the private sector,” Quinterno said. “We had no net job growth in the public sector.”

Quinterno is concerned that, after the downward revision of the February job numbers, the state added just 16,300 jobs in the first three months of this year compared with 30,900 in the first quarter of 2012.

The March decline in jobs was led by the manufacturing sector, which lost 3,700 jobs, and trade, transportation and utilities, which lost 2,200 jobs. Professional and business services gained the most, adding 4,200 jobs.

Local unemployment rates for March are scheduled to be released May 1. On a seasonally adjusted basis, the Triangle’s unemployment rate dropped significantly to 7.2 percent in February, down from 7.7 percent in January.

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