NC jobless rate falls as government jobs increase

North Carolina’s jobless rate dropped in March to 4.9 percent, largely driven by a surge in government hiring. It was the third time in the past year that the state was at 4.9 percent unemployment and the lowest in nearly a decade.

But in terms of actual job growth, this was the worst March since the state began its long economic recovery from the recession in 2010.

The state’s unemployment rate has remained relatively stable the past year, dipping from 5.1 percent in February, where it was also in March 2016. North Carolina hit a low of 4.9 percent unemployment last June and July, and had not attained that level earlier since September 2007, before the great recession.

The N.C. Department of Commerce issued the data Friday.

The national jobless rate also fell, dropping to 4.5 percent in March from 4.7 percent in February. The national jobless rate has been lower or equal to North Carolina’s average for the past year.

North Carolina’s private sector lost 4,400 jobs in March but that loss was offset by a gain of 4,900 government jobs for a net gain of just 500 jobs. The largest decline in the private sector was construction, losing 3,700 jobs in March, while manufacturing gained the most, 3,000 jobs.

Wells Fargo economist Mark Vitner said weather and other factors may have skewed the March job numbers. He said the coming months are expected to show a resumption in hiring.

“I am not quite sure why government bounced back but the weakness in the private sector reflects a payback from some earlier strength in construction, where activity was pulled forward because of unseasonably mild weather,” Vitner said by email. “Hiring at retailers and restaurants was also adversely impacted by this year’s relatively late Easter.”

N.C. State University economist Michael Walden said that the state’s jobless picture looked much healthier in the household survey, which samples North Carolina households on their employment status. That survey showed 15,331 more people working working in March than in February, and the number of unemployed falling by more than 8,000.

The household survey and business survey can send conflicting messages from month to month, but they tend to balance out over a year’s worth of data. For the past three months, however, surveys have not lined up.

This year so far, North Carolina has added 4,900 jobs, a growth rate of 0.1 percent, according to the payroll survey. The household survey shows 43,210 more people working in the past three months, an increase of 0.9 percent.

For the past 12 months, North Carolina gained 69,700 jobs, growing 1.6 percent, according to the payroll survey. The only categories that lost jobs in the past year were manufacturing and information.

The household survey shows 111,111 more people employed in the past year, an increase of 2.4 percent.

Walden said that as more businesses are hiring and wage prospects improve, he expects to see more employed people switching jobs.

As more people look for work, North Carolina’s labor force added 7,182 people in March and added 106,414 people in the past year. The labor force is the total number of people working and looking for work, and growth of job seekers is a barometer of public confidence in the economy. However, the addition of job seekers to an economic market can add to the unemployed rolls if the economy doesn’t create jobs fast enough to absorb them.

John Murawski: 919-829-8932, @johnmurawski