NC jobless rate rises to 5.7% in May

North Carolina’s jobless rate ticked up to 5.7 percent in May as thousands of people flooded the job market in search of work.

The state’s jobless rate, which rose from 5.5 percent in April, remains above the national average of 5.5 percent. North Carolina’s employment market has steadily improved during the past year, with unemployment falling from 6.3 percent in May 2014.

The Labor and Economic Analysis Division of the N.C. Department of Commerce issued the seasonally adjusted data Friday.

“It’s really frustrating to see the unemployment rate come up,” said Mark Vitner, a WellsFargo economist based in Charlotte. “The job growth seems to be happening in all the right places.”

So far this year, the state has added 40,100 jobs in the first five months. That’s comparable to the 41,500 jobs added in the first five months of 2014, suggesting steady but not spectacular growth.

North Carolina added 10,400 jobs in May alone, but the new jobs couldn’t keep up with demand, as the jobless ranks added 12,627 people last month.

In addition to a surge of confidence among the unemployed, a likely contributor to the increase of job seekers was several large layoffs, which dumped job seekers on the market. In the Triangle, companies such as GlaxoSmithKline, The Pantry and Salix Pharmaceuticals have shed hundreds of jobs in recent months.

Another measure of economic health – the labor force participation rate – is also inching back up. The measure, which tracks job seekers and job holders, was up to 61.4 percent in May from 59.8 percent in December.

Before the recent recession, however, the figure averaged about 67 percent, one indication that the economy has not returned to pre-recession levels, said John Quinterno, principal at South by North Strategies, a research firm in Chapel Hill.

One of the paradoxes of economic expansion is that confidence in the job market can drive up the jobless rate by increasing the number of job seekers.

N.C. State University economist Michael Walden said that pattern may distract a casual observer from seeing the bigger picture.

“In the months ahead, this scenario may repeat, meaning the headline jobless rate may rise,” Walden said. “My recommendation is to focus on jobs created as the best gauge of the labor market.”

The only major state industry to lose jobs in May was the category of trade, transportation and utilities, which was down by 3,700 positions for the previous month.

Over the past year, North Carolina has added 108,800 non-farm jobs; the number of jobless people shrunk by 19,275.

The only major industry to decrease over the year was government, losing 600 positions. Mining and logging remained flat for the year.

Murawski: 919-829-8932