The Triangle’s jobless rate held steady at 4.9 percent in February despite solid job gains as thousands of people flooded the job market.
Unemployment in the Triangle, one of North Carolina’s most vibrant regional economies, is below the state jobless rate of 5.3 percent and below the national average of 5.5 percent.
The data was released Wednesday by the Labor and Economic Analysis Division of the N.C. Department of Commerce. The numbers were seasonally adjusted by Wells Fargo Securities in Charlotte.
The region – comprising Raleigh, Durham, Chapel Hill and Cary – added 1,300 non-farm jobs, according to surveys, but at the same time 6,100 people swelled the labor pool. The Triangle has added 29,800 jobs over the past year while the labor pool grew by 29,600.
Jobless rates rise when job seekers enter the labor pool and can’t find work, increasing the rolls of the unemployed. The Triangle’s flat unemployment rate didn’t dazzle economists but showed that the region’s economy was able to absorb workers in sufficient numbers.
“This was a solid report, with jobs gaining and individuals coming back into the labor force to look for work,” said N.C. State University economist Michael Walden. “Due to these two factors, this is one of the months when the lack of improvement in the jobless rate is not an issue.”
In the past year the Triangle’s jobless rate has zigzagged between 4.5 percent and 5.5 percent and has dropped from 5.3 percent 12 months ago. Other regions of the state have declined more dramatically, such as the Greensboro/High Point combined metropolitan statistical area, which fell from 6.9 percent to 5.7 percent over 12 months.
That doesn’t necessarily mean economic growth has slowed down here, said Wells Fargo economist Mark Vitner.
“The only area of the state that has seen the labor force participation rise in the past year is Raleigh,” Vitner said. “That’s one of the reasons Raleigh hasn’t seen as much of a drop in the unemployment rate.”
The Triangle continues to gain critical mass as an employment center as it attracts workers from other parts of North Carolina, other states and other countries. The seven-county region now accounts for about 20 percent of the state’s total labor force, up from about 18 percent in February 2008.
The Triangle’s labor force has grown by more than 100,000 workers over the past seven years, and now surpasses 900,000, noted John Quinterno, principal at South by North Strategies, a research firm in Chapel Hill.
“We’re seeing increasing concentration and power-shifting to a few metro areas, and the Triangle is at the top of that list,” Quinterno said.
In February, the Durham and Chapel Hill region lost jobs in education and professional services, but gained everywhere else. For the past year, the region was up in every job category.
The Raleigh and Cary region lost jobs in manufacturing in February and in financial activities for the past year, but gained everywhere else.