04.05.2012 News Releases, Policy Points

Local Unemployment Rates Drop In February

CHAPEL HILL (April 5, 2012) – Between February 2011 and February 2012, unemployment rates fell in 81 of North Carolina’s 100 counties and in 13 of the state’s 14 metropolitan areas. These findings come from new estimates from the Labor and Economic Analysis Division of the North Carolina Department of Commerce.

“Local labor market conditions improved across much of North Carolina over the past year, but unemployment nevertheless remains at elevated levels,” said John Quinterno, a principal with South by North Strategies, Ltd., a research firm specializing in economic and social policy. “While unemployment rates dropped in 81 counties and 13 metros over the year, unemployment rates at or above 10 percent remain the norm in 74 counties and 7 metros.”

Compared to December 2007, which is when the economy fell into recession, North Carolina has 5.1 percent fewer jobs (-214,300) and has seen its unadjusted unemployment rate climb from 4.7 percent to 10.1 percent. In February, the state gained 8,300 more payroll jobs than it lost. Since bottoming out in February 2010, the state’s labor market has netted an average of roughly 4,700 jobs per month, resulting in a cumulative gain of 112,000 positions (+2.9 percent).

Between January and February, unemployment rates fell in 84 counties, yet nearly three-quarters of all North Carolina counties posted unemployment rates of at least 10 percent. Individual county rates ranged from 6.3 percent in Orange County to 20.7 percent in Graham County. Compared to the prior month, unemployment rates were lower in 84 counties, higher in 10 counties, and unchanged in 6 counties.

“Non-metropolitan labor markets continue to lag metropolitan ones,” added Quinterno. “In February, 11.6 percent of the non-metro labor force was unemployed, compared to 9.6 percent of the metro labor force. Compared to December 2007, the non-metro labor force is now 1.6 percent smaller in size, and 7.9 percent fewer individuals have jobs. Meanwhile, the number of unemployed rural persons has grown by 105.5 percent and now totals 152,630.”

Last month, unemployment rates fell in 13 of the state’s 14 metro areas and held steady in one metro (Jacksonville). Rocky Mount had the highest unemployment rate (13.3 percent), followed by Hickory-Morganton-Lenoir (11.8 percent). Durham-Chapel Hill had the lowest rate (7.8 percent), followed by Raleigh-Cary (8.1 percent) and Asheville (8.4 percent).

Compared to February 2011, unemployment rates were lower in 81 counties and 13 metros. Some 59 counties and 13 metros logged increases in the sizes of their local labor forces. Among metros, Asheville’s labor force expanded at the fastest rate (+3.1 percent), followed by Raleigh-Cary (+3 percent) and Durham-Chapel Hill (+2.7 percent). Metro areas now are home to 71.7 percent of the state’s entire labor force with slightly more than half of the entire labor force residing in the Triangle, Triad, and Charlotte metros.

In the long term, any meaningful recovery will hinge on growth in the Charlotte, Research Triangle, and Piedmont Triad regions. Yet growth remains weak. Collectively, employment in these three metro regions has risen by just 0.4 percent since December 2007, and the combined February unemployment rate in the three regions equaled 9.2 percent. Of the three broad regions, the Research Triangle had the lowest unemployment rate (8.2 percent), followed by the Piedmont Triad (10.1 percent), and Charlotte (10.3 percent).

“Local labor market conditions improved over the course of the year in much of North Carolina, but the modest nature of the improvements offered little comfort to the nearly 500,000 Tar Heels who are unemployed,” said Quinterno. “Unemployment remains a serious problem across much of the state, and little in the February report suggests that conditions will improve markedly anytime soon.”

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