04.21.2014 News Releases, Policy Points

NC Labor Market Delivers More Of The Same

CHAPEL HILL, NC (April 21, 2014) – In March, employers in North Carolina added 19,400 more payroll positions than they cut (+0.5 percent), due entirely to growth in the private sector. The monthly household survey, meanwhile, recorded a drop in unemployment, with the statewide unemployment rate falling to 6.3 percent. Nevertheless, North Carolina still has fewer payroll jobs, more unemployed residents, and a higher unemployment rate than it did 6.25 years ago.

These findings come from new data released today by the Labor and Economic Analysis Division of the NC Department of Commerce.

“The March employment report is another mixed report similar to those of the last several months,” said John Quinterno, a principal with South by North Strategies, Ltd., a research firm specializing in economic and social policy. “In March, North Carolina experienced a relatively modest change in the total number of payroll jobs in the state. At the same time, both the number of unemployed persons and the unemployment rate fell.”

Between February 2014 and March 2014, North Carolina employers added 19,400 more jobs than they cut (+0.5 percent). Private-sector payrolls netted 19,900 positions (+0.6 percent), but public-sector payrolls shed, on net, 500 jobs (-0.3 percent). Within private industry, the professional and business services sector netted the most jobs (+7,600, + 1.4 percent), followed by the trade, transportation, and utilities sector (+5,500 jobs, +0.7 percent) and the education and health services sector (+3,500, +0.6 percent). Last month, payroll levels in almost every major private-sector industry group either increased or held constant.

A revision to the February 2014 payroll data found that the state lost 3,950 more jobs that month than first estimated (-11,300 versus -7,349). With that revision, North Carolina now has, on net, 67,700 fewer payroll positions (-1.6 percent) than it did in December 2007. Since bottoming out in February 2010, the state has netted an average of 5,329 payroll jobs per month, resulting in a cumulative gain of 261,100 positions (+6.8 percent). At that rate, holding all else equal, it would take until April 2015 for the state to have as many jobs as it did at the end of 2007.

“While positive, the pace of payroll growth in North Carolina has not quickened over the past year,” explained Quinterno. “Between March 2013 and March 2014, the total number of payroll jobs in North Carolina grew by 1.6 percent, a rate similar to those seen in prior years. Between March 2012 and March 2013, the total of number payroll jobs in North Carolina also rose by 1.6 percent, while between March 2011 and March 2012, the rate of growth was 1.7 percent. From March 2010 to March 2011, the rate of growth was 1.5 percent. No matter how one cuts the data, North Carolina has experienced the same slow rate of job growth for the last four years.”

The household data recorded in March offered a somewhat positive view of the state’s labor market. Last month, the statewide unemployment rate fell by 0.1 percentage points to 6.3 percent, which was the lowest monthly rate recorded since the middle of 2008. Additionally, 10,277 more North Carolinians had jobs in March (+0.2 percent) than in February, and 2,412 fewer persons were unemployed (-0.1 percent). And over the month, the size of the state’s labor force essentially held steady at 4.7 million.

While the changes in household data recorded between February and March seemed positive, the data for changes over the past year were less so. Between March 2013 and March 2014, the number of unemployed North Carolina’s fell by 105,637 persons, but 46.8 percent of the decline was attributable to people who left the labor force entirely. If those 49,426 persons were added back to the labor force and considered unemployed, the statewide unemployment rate in March would have equaled 7.3 percent. Even if 50 percent of those individuals were added back to the labor force and considered unemployed, the statewide unemployment rate would have equaled 6.8 percent.

Declines in the statewide labor force participation rate provide additional evidence of a labor market that is not growing rapidly enough to accommodate all those who want and need work. In March, the labor force participation rate held steady at the revised February 2014 figure of 61 percent, which is the lowest monthly figure recorded at any point since 1976. Moreover, the labor force participation rate has fallen steadily since December 2012, when the rate equaled 62.7 percent.

Although another important measure of labor utilization, the employment-to-population ratio, has ticked up since December 2013, the March 2014 ratio of 57.1 percent was identical to the one logged in March 2013 and just 0.8 percentage points above the 38-year low of 56.3 percent posted in the summer of 2011.

The March labor market report provided additional insight into the effects of the extensive changes to the state’s system of unemployment insurance implemented over the summer. Between February and March, the number of claimants of regular state-funded insurance fell by 6.8 percent, dropping to 52,666 from 56,514. Compared to a year earlier, 50,372 fewer individuals received regular state-funded insurance in March (-48.9 percent).

Also in March, the state paid a (nominal) total of $49.4 million in regular state-funded unemployment insurance compensation, an amount 53.1 percent lower than the (nominal) total of $105.5 million paid in March 2013.

“Despite recent declines in the statewide unemployment rate, labor market conditions in North Carolina remain underwhelming. Look beyond the important yet limited measure of the unemployment rate, and one will see labor market dynamics essentially no different from the sluggish ones that have characterized the past four years.”

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