04.29.2014 News Releases, Policy Points

Local Unemployment Rates Fluctuate In March

CHAPEL HILL, NC (April 29, 2014) – Between March 2013 and March 2014, unemployment rates fell in all 100 of North Carolina’s counties and in all 14 of the state’s metropolitan areas. Over the same period, however, the number of people who reported having jobs actually decreased in 30 counties and 2 metro areas. That suggests that drops in unemployment were intertwined with the exiting of people from the labor force; in fact, the size of the labor force decreased in in 71 counties and in 8 metro areas over the year.

These findings come from new estimates released by the Labor and Economic Analysis Division of the North Carolina Department of Commerce.

“Local unemployment rates fell across all of North Carolina over the past year, with the unadjusted statewide rate falling by 1.8 percentage points,” said John Quinterno, a principal with South by North Strategies, Ltd., a research firm specializing in economic and social policy. “Many counties and metros now are experiencing some of the lowest unemployment rates recorded since the onset of the ‘Great Recession’ in December 2007.”

“One must not forget the fact that local unemployment rates across North Carolina remain elevated,” added Quinterno. “In March, 96 counties and 14 metro areas posted unemployment rates greater than those logged six years ago.”

Compared to December 2007, which is when the national economy fell into recession, North Carolina now has 1.6 percent fewer payroll jobs (-67,700). In March, the state added 19,400 more jobs than it lost (+0.5 percent). Since bottoming out in February 2010, the state’s labor market has netted some 5,329 jobs per month, resulting in a cumulative gain of 261,100 positions (+6.8 percent). At that rate, all else equal, it would take until April 2015 for the state to have as many payroll jobs as it did at the end of 2007.

Between February 2014 and March 2014, local unemployment rates decreased in 59 of the state’s 100 counties, rose in 23 counties, and held constant in 18 counties. Individual county rates in March ranged from 4.6 percent in Chatham County to 12.7 percent in Graham County. Overall, 6 counties posted unemployment rates greater than or equal to 10 percent, and 58 counties posted rates between 6.7 and 9.9 percent.

“Non-metropolitan labor markets continue to struggle relative to metropolitan ones,” noted Quinterno. “In March, 7.5 percent of the non-metro labor force was unemployed, compared to 6.2 percent of the metro labor force. Compared to December 2007, the non-metro labor force now has 5.4 percent fewer employed persons, while the number of unemployed individuals is 30.1 percent larger. Over that time, the size of the non-metro labor force has fallen by 3.4 percent.”

Between February and March, unemployment rates fell in 5 of the state’s metro areas, rose in 3 metro areas, and held steady in 6 metro areas. Rocky Mount had the highest unemployment rate (9.4 percent), followed by Fayetteville (7.5 percent) and Hickory-Morganton-Lenoir (7 percent). Durham-Chapel Hill had the lowest unemployment rate (5.1 percent), followed by Asheville and Raleigh-Cary (both 5.2 percent).

Compared to March 2013, unemployment rates in March 2014 were lower in all 100 counties and all 14 metro areas. Over the year, however, labor force sizes decreased in 71 counties and in 8 metros. In fact, the statewide labor force (seasonally adjusted) was 1 percent smaller (-49,426 individuals) in March 2014 than it was in March 2013.

Among metros, Rocky Mount’s labor force contracted at the greatest rate (-2.8 percent) over the course of the year, followed by Greensboro-High Point (-1.8 percent) and Jacksonville and Hickory-Morganton-Lenoir (both -1.7 percent). With those changes, metro areas now are home to 72.2 percent of the state’s labor force, with 51 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 the three metro regions has risen by 5.7 percent since December 2007, and the combined unemployment rate in March totaled 6 percent. Of the three broad regions, the Research Triangle had the lowest December unemployment rate (5.3 percent), followed by Charlotte (6.4 percent) and the Piedmont Triad (6.6 percent).

The local employment report for March also provided insights into the effects of the extensive changes to the state’s system of unemployment insurance implemented over the summer. Last month, the number of regular unemployment insurance initial claims filed in North Carolina totaled 21,557, down from the 44,155 initial claims filed a year earlier (-51.2 percent).

Mecklenburg County was home to greatest number of regular initial claims (2,595), followed by Wake (1,664), Guilford (1,099), Forsyth (777), and Cumberland (765) counties.

In March 2014, North Carolinians received a (nominal) total of $51.4 million in regular state-funded and federal unemployment insurance compensation, down from the (nominal) $209.7 million received in March 2013. This sharp decline (-75.5 percent) is attributable to a mix of factors, such as drops in the number of insurance claims resulting from economic improvements and legal changes to eligibility criteria.

Additionally, the state’s decision to exit the federal Emergency Unemployment Compensation (EUC) program reduced the amount of federal unemployment insurance compensation flowing into the state in December. Between March 2013 and March 2014, the amount of federal unemployment insurance benefits paid to North Carolinians fell by 98.1 percent, dropping to a (nominal) total of $2 million from a (nominal) total of $104.2 million.

“Even with the recent declines in local unemployment rates, labor market conditions in communities across North Carolina still remain far away from their pre-recessionary states,” said Quinterno. “The March data showed little deviation from the fundamental problem that has troubled the state for the last four years: a sluggish recovery that is not generating enough employment opportunities, rapidly enough for all those who want and need them.”

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