05.29.2013 News Releases, Policy Points

Spring Thaw In Local Unemployment Rates

CHAPEL HILL, NC (May 29, 2013) – Between April 2012 and April 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 33 counties and in 8 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 remains elevated, with 32 counties and one metro area posting unemployment rates of at least 10 percent. In April 2008, in contrast, just one county and no metro areas logged unemployment rates of at least 10 percent.”

Compared to December 2007, which is when the national economy fell into recession, North Carolina now has 2.7 percent fewer jobs (-113,400) and has seen its unadjusted unemployment rate climb to 8.5 percent from 4.7 percent. In April, the state gained 6,100 more jobs than it added (+ 0.2 percent). Since bottoming out in February 2010, the state’s labor market has netted some 5,642 jobs per month, resulting in a cumulative gain of 214,400 positions (+5.6 percent).

Between March 2013 and April 2013, local unemployment rates decreased in 97 of the state’s 100 counties. Individual county rates ranged from 5.3 percent in Orange County to 15.9 percent in Graham County. Overall, 33 counties posted unemployment rates greater than or equal to 10 percent, and 64 counties posted rates between 6 and 9.9 percent.

“Non-metropolitan labor markets continue to struggle relative to metropolitan ones,” noted Quinterno. “In April, 9.6 percent of the non-metro labor force was unemployed, compared to 8 percent of the metro labor force. Compared to December 2007, the non-metro labor force now has 6 percent fewer employed persons, while the number of unemployed individuals is 70.8 percent larger.”

Over the month, unemployment rates fell in all 14 metro areas. Rocky Mount had the highest unemployment rate (12.3 percent), followed by Hickory-Morganton-Lenoir (9.6 percent) and Fayetteville (9.2 percent). Durham-Chapel Hill had the lowest unemployment rate (6.3 percent), followed by Asheville (6.6 percent) and Raleigh-Cary (6.8 percent).

Compared to April 2012, unemployment rates in April 2013 were lower in 76 counties and 12 metro areas. Over the year, labor force sizes increased in 33 counties and in 8 metros. Among metros, Asheville’s labor force expanded at the fastest rate (+2.1 percent), followed by that of Greenville (+1.7 percent). With those changes, metro areas now are home to 71.9 percent of the state’s labor force, with 50.5 percent of the labor force residing in the Triangle, Triad, and Charlotte metros.

In the long term, improvements in overall labor market conditions depend 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 3.1 percent since December 2007, and the combined April unemployment rate in the three regions equaled 7.8 percent. That was down from the 8.2 percent rate recorded one year ago yet was well above the 4.6 percent rate recorded in April 2008. Of the three broad regions, the Research Triangle had the lowest April unemployment rate (6.8 percent), followed by Charlotte and the Piedmont Triad (both 8.6 percent).

“Despite recent improvements in local labor markets across the state, the problems of unemployment and the accompanying hardships remain pronounced,” said Quinterno. “The state simply lacks enough jobs for all those who need and want work, and robust job growth remains far beyond the horizon. Given the massive changes to the unemployment insurance system scheduled to occur on July 1, the problems only may get worse before they get better.”

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