Smithfield Herald

Triangle jobless rate below 5% for first time since 2008

The Triangle’s jobless rate dropped to 4.9 percent in October, breaking the 5 percent barrier for the first time since mid-2008.

The data, released Tuesday, demonstrate that the Triangle – home to major universities, technology companies and health care organizations – is an economic oasis compared to much of the state. North Carolina’s average jobless rate was 6.3 percent last month, and the state’s economically depressed regions remain stuck in an economic funk.

“The Triangle is one of the fastest growing and most dynamic markets in the country,” N.C. State University economist Michael Walden said in an email. “It is an educational and technology complex.”

The Triangle posted significant job gains and expanded its labor force, signs that this region’s unemployment rate is falling even as more people are streaming into the market to look for work.

The region’s October jobless rate fell from 5.3 percent in September, while the labor force grew by 6,200 people and added more than 11,700 jobs over the month.

By comparison, the national jobless rate was 5.8 percent in October.

“Today the (Triangle’s) economy seems to be gaining momentum,” said Wells Fargo economist Mark Vitner. “This improvement, which was hard to see a year ago, is easier to see today.”

The jobless statistics were issued by the Labor and Economic Analysis Division in the N.C. Department of Commerce and seasonally adjusted by Wells Fargo.

The Triangle has added 26,200 net new jobs through October, a 3.2 percent gain compared to the same 10-month period in 2013, Vitner said.

Despite losses in manufacturing, the Triangle saw big gains in leisure and hospitality, and in professional and business services, including IT and computer engineering jobs.

The local labor market has expanded by about 11,000 people in the past 10 months.

“The Raleigh area may be one of the few places where the labor force is gaining momentum,” said East Carolina University economist Randy Parker. “That’s the healthy unemployment reduction that we’re used to seeing (in past recoveries). The unemployed rate is falling because people are finding jobs, not because people are leaving the labor force.”

October was a major milestone for the state, as it was the first time that the total number of jobs in North Carolina exceeded total jobs before the recession.

But the Triangle had passed that marker two years ago, in October 2012, and now has 53,300 more jobs than before the recession, Vitner noted.