Southwest Wake News

Triangle jobless rate ticks up to 5.4% in March

The Triangle unemployment rate edged up in March despite the region adding 3,700 jobs on a seasonally adjusted basis during the month.

The jobless rate increased two-tenths of a percentage point to 5.4 percent, according to data released Tuesday by the N.C. Department of Commerce and seasonally adjusted by Wells Fargo. The Triangle rate for February was previously reported as 5.1 percent but has been revised to 5.2 percent.

Wells Fargo economist Mark Vitner said the rise in the rate shouldn’t be viewed as a sign the local economic recovery is faltering.

“I definitely don’t think it’s the sign of the beginning of a reversal for the unemployment rate in the Triangle,” he said, noting that the seasonally adjusted jobless rate rose in most of the North Carolina metropolitan areas that Wells Fargo tracks. “If anything, it seems to me that the state’s economy is still gaining momentum.”

Vitner said the Triangle continues to see the strongest job growth of all the state’s large metro areas, including in sectors that typically create high-skill, high-paying positions.

“Where we’ve seen the bulk of the pickup is coming from business and professional services, which is where most of the jobs in the tech sector show up,” he said.

Much like the state unemployment rate, the Triangle’s jobless rate has fallen precipitously over the past 12 months. The local rate was 7.2 percent in March 2013. North Carolina’s jobless rate was 6.3 percent in March, down from 8.5 percent during the same month last year.

Michael Walden, an N.C. State University economist, said that while the local job growth is needed, the data continue to show a worrying trend. He said the number of middle-class jobs continues to decline as a percentage of all jobs.

“What you’re seeing here as well as statewide is really job growth at both the top and the bottom and not much in the middle, in fact a little bit stronger growth in the bottom,” Walden said. “I think that’s going to be a focus of increasing attention as time goes on. As the job market improves, we’re going to be paying more attention to the rate of pay, and that hasn’t recovered nearly as much as the job market.”

Walden remains optimistic that the Triangle recovery will gain momentum throughout the year. One sector he’ll be watching closely is residential housing, where the lack of first-time homebuyers in the market is raising concerns about the strength of the recovery.

“We really need those first-time buyers to get into the market for this housing recovery to be sustained,” he said.