08.24.2012 News Releases, Policy Points

Local Unemployment Rates Drop Over The Year

CHAPEL HILL (August 24, 2012) – Between July 2011 and July 2012, unemployment rates fell in 94 of North Carolina’s 100 counties and in all 14 of the state’s metropolitan areas. Over that same period, labor force sizes contracted or held steady in 59 counties and in four metro areas. These findings come from new estimates prepared by the Labor and Economic Analysis Division of the North Carolina Department of Commerce.

“Local unemployment rates improved across much of North Carolina over the past year,” said John Quinterno, a principal with South by North Strategies, Ltd., a research firm specializing in economic and social policy. “Local labor market conditions nevertheless remain distressed, with 59 counties and seven metros logging July unemployment rates at or above 10 percent.”

Compared to December 2007, which is when the economy fell into recession, North Carolina has 5.3 percent fewer jobs (-220,000) and has seen its unadjusted unemployment rate climb from 4.7 percent to 9.8 percent. In July, the state gained 1,800 more payroll jobs than it lost. Since bottoming out in February 2010, the state’s labor market has netted an average of 3,666 jobs per month, resulting in a cumulative gain of 106,314 positions (+2.8 percent).

Between June and July, unemployment rates fell in 47 counties, rose in 26 counties, and were unchanged in 27 counties. Individual county rates ranged from 4.7 percent in Currituck County to 17.6 percent in Scotland County. Overall, 59 counties posted unemployment rates greater than or equal to 10 percent, while 40 counties recorded rates between 5 and 10 percent.

“Non-metropolitan labor markets continue to lag behind metropolitan ones,” noted Quinterno. “In July, 10.9 percent of the non-metro labor force was unemployed, as opposed to 9.4 percent of the metro labor force. Compared to December 2007, the non-metro labor force is now 0.5 percent smaller in size, while 6.1 percent fewer persons are employed. Meanwhile, the number of unemployed rural persons has grown by 95.5 percent and now totals 145,208. Over the year, the non-metro labor force declined by 1 percent, or 13,577 persons.”

Over the month, unemployment rates fell in eight metro areas, rose in two metros, and held constant in four metros. Rocky Mount had the highest unemployment rate (13.1 percent), followed by Hickory-Morganton-Lenoir (11.1 percent). Asheville had the lowest unemployment rate (7.7 percent), followed by Durham-Chapel Hill and Raleigh-Cary (tied at 7.9 percent).

Compared to July 2011, unemployment rates were lower in 94 counties and in all 14 metros. Over the year, labor force sizes contracted or held steady in 59 counties and in four metros. Among metros, Wilmington’s labor force contracted at the fastest rate (-2.7 percent), followed by Winston-Salem (-0.9 percent), Hickory-Morganton-Lenoir (-0.7 percent), and Charlotte (-0.1 percent). With those changes, metro areas now are home to 71.7 percent of the state’s labor force, with 50.2 percent of the labor force residing in the Triangle, Triad, and Charlotte metros.

In the long term, any meaningful recovery will hinge on economic and employment growth in the Charlotte, Research Triangle, and Piedmont Triad regions. Yet their growth remains weak. Collectively, employment in these three metro regions has risen by 1.6 percent since December 2007, and the combined July unemployment rate in the three regions equaled 9.2, down from the 10.3 percent rate recorded one year ago. Of the three broad regions, the Research Triangle had the lowest unemployment rate (8.1 percent), followed by the Piedmont Triad (10 percent), and Charlotte (10.2 percent).

“Local unemployment rates fell across much of North Carolina over the past year, but that in no way implies that local labor markets are healthy,” said Quinterno. “Unemployment rates remain elevated, and nearly 500,000 North Carolinians are unemployed. The odds of finding a job remain stacked against unemployed North Carolinians who need and want work.”

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