04.10.2013 News Releases, Policy Points

Unemployment Widespread In Local Labor Markets

CHAPEL HILL, NC (April 10, 2013) – Between February 2012 and February 2013, unemployment rates fell in 76 of North Carolina’s 100 countries and in 12 of the state’s 14 metropolitan areas. Over the period, the size of the labor force grew in 46 counties and in 10 metro areas. These findings come from new estimates prepared by the Labor and Economic Analysis Division of the North Carolina Department of Commerce.

“Over the year, local unemployment rates dropped across most of North Carolina,” said John Quinterno, a principal with South by North Strategies, Ltd., a research firm specializing in economic and social policy. “Unemployment nevertheless remained widespread. Last month, local unemployment rates equaled or exceeded 10 percent in 60 counties and 4 metro areas. In February 2008, in contrast, five counties and no metro areas logged unemployment rates of 10 percent or greater.”

Compared to December 2007, which is when the national economy fell into recession, North Carolina now has 2.9 percent fewer jobs (-118,300) and has seen its unadjusted unemployment rate climb to 9.5 percent from 4.7 percent. In February, the state added 3,300 more jobs than it lost (+0.1 percent). Since bottoming out in February 2010, the state’s labor market has netted some 5,819 jobs per month, resulting in a cumulative gain of 209,500 positions (+5.5 percent).

Between January 2012 and February 2013, local unemployment rates declined in 99 of the state’s 100 counties. Individual county rates ranged from 5.9 percent in Orange County to 20.2 percent in Graham County. Overall, 60 counties posted unemployment rates greater than or equal to 10 percent, and 39 counties posted rates between 6.8 and 9.9 percent.

“Non-metropolitan labor markets continue to struggle relative to metropolitan ones,” noted Quinterno. “In February, 10.9 percent of the non-metro labor force was unemployed, compared to 9 percent of the metro labor force. Compared to December 2007, the non-metro labor force now has 6.7 percent fewer employed persons, while the number of unemployed individuals is 94.1 percent larger.”

Over the month, unemployment rates fell in all 14 metro areas. Rocky Mount had the highest unemployment rate (13.2 percent), followed by Hickory-Morganton-Lenoir (10.8 percent) and Wilmington (10.2 percent). Durham-Chapel Hill had the lowest unemployment rate (7 percent), followed by Raleigh-Cary (7.5 percent) and Asheville (7.8 percent).

Compared to February 2012, unemployment rates in February 2013 were lower in 76 counties and 12 metro areas. Over the year, labor force sizes increased in 46 counties and in 10 metros. Among metros, Asheville’s labor force expanded at the fastest rate (+2.6 percent), followed by that of Greenville (+2.4 percent). With those changes, metro areas now are home to 71.8 percent of the state’s labor force, with 50.4 percent of the labor force residing in the Triangle, Triad, and Charlotte metros.

In the long term, improvements in overall labor market conditions will hinge on growth in the Charlotte, Research Triangle, and Piedmont Triad regions. Yet growth in these metros remains subdued. Collectively, employment in those three metro regions has risen by 2.5 percent since December 2007, and the combined February unemployment rate in the three regions equaled 8.5 percent. That was down from the 9.1 percent rate recorded one year ago yet was well above the 4.9 percent rate recorded in February 2008. Of the three broad regions, the Research Triangle had the lowest February unemployment rate (7.5 percent), followed by Charlotte and the Piedmont Triad (both 9.6 percent).

“Three years into a statewide labor market recovery, unemployment remains widespread across much of North Carolina,” said Quinterno. “The state simply lack enough jobs for all those who need and want work, and little evidence suggests that the pattern is about to change anytime soon.”

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