NC unemployment rate falls two notches to 5.1%

North Carolina’s unemployment rate fell two notches last month as the state added more than 9,000 nonfarm jobs, more than compensating for a significant decline in jobs recorded in January.

The state’s unemployment rate in February was 5.1 percent, down from 5.3 percent the prior month, the N.C. Department of Commerce reported Friday.

The unemployment rate for February is one-tenth of a percentage point lower than 12 months ago but remains above the national rate of 4.7 percent.

“It’s just a very good report for a state economy that seems to be doing very well right now,” said Richard Kaglic, an economist with the Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond.

The state added an estimated 9,100 nonfarm jobs in February, based on a survey of employers. By contrast, the state lost 6,600 nonfarm jobs in January.

Over the past 12 months, the state has gained 76,800 nonfarm jobs.

February’s gains were led by a an increase of 3,500 jobs in leisure and hospitality service, 1,700 jobs in education and health services and 1,200 professional and business services jobs.

The information and financial sectors each lost 500 jobs.

“Unfortunately,” N.C. State University Michael Walden wrote in his commentary on the jobs report, “these are two of the highest paying sectors,” whereas the strong job gains in the leisure and hospitality industry “happens to be the lowest paid sector.”

The monthly household survey showed an estimated jump of 16,648 in the number of people employed in February. Economists give the employer survey numbers greater weight because they’re based on a larger sampling size.

Kaglic said that the state hit a trifecta of sorts in February – an increase in the number of jobs and the overall labor force, plus a decline in the unemployment rate.

The labor force counts both those who have jobs plus those who are actively seeking work.

The state’s labor force rose two-tenths of a percent in February and has increased 2.1 percent over the past 12 months, versus a rise of seven-tenths of a percent for the nation as a whole.

An increasing labor force, which is triggered by factors such as an infllux of out-of-state workers and a resumption of job searches by people who were previously too discouraged to bother, keeps the unemployment rate higher than it would otherwise be in the short-term. However, said Kaglic, in the long-term it enhances the state economy’s growth prospects “because you have more workers available.”

County unemployment rates for February are scheduled to be released Wednesday, April 5. The Triangle’s seasonally adjusted unemployment rate for January was 4.7 percent.

David Ranii: 919-829-4877, @dranii