07.30.2014 News Releases, Policy Points

Local Unemployment Rates Down Over The Year

CHAPEL HILL, NC (July 30, 2014)  Between June 2013 and June 2014, unemployment rates once again fell in all of North Carolina’s 100 counties and in all 14 of the state’s metropolitan areas. Over the same period, labor force sizes shrank in 90 counties and in 12 metro areas. 

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,” said John Quinterno, a principal with South by North Strategies, Ltd., a research firm specializing in economic and social policy. “Although many local labor markets currently have some of the lowest unemployment rates since late 2007, unemployment remains a serious problem. In fact, 61 counties and 9 metro areas have unemployment rates greater than those posted in June 2008.” 

Compared to December 2007, which is when the national economy fell into recession, North Carolina now has 1.2 percent fewer payroll jobs (-48,500). In June, the state lost 5,800 more jobs than it lost (-0.1 percent). Since bottoming out in February 2010, the state’s labor market has netted some 5,390 jobs per month, resulting in a cumulative gain of 280,300 positions (+7.3 percent). At that rate, all else equal, it would take until early 2015 for the state to have as many payroll jobs as it did at the end of 2007.

Between May and June 2014, local unemployment rates decreased in 81 of the state’s 100 counties, increased in 10 counties, and held constant in 9 counties. Individual county rates in June ranged from 4.2 percent in Currituck County to 12.1 percent in Scotland County. Overall, 3 counties posted unemployment rates greater than or equal to 10 percent, and 54 counties posted rates between 6.6 and 9.9 percent. (Because seasonal fluctuations in labor markets are pronounced in the summer, month-to-month changes provide limited insight into trends.)

“Non-metropolitan labor markets continue to lag behind metropolitan ones,” noted Quinterno. “In June, 7.1 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 3.7 percent fewer employed persons, while the number of unemployed individuals is 24.2 percent larger. Over that time, the size of the non-metro labor force has fallen by 2.2 percent.” 

Between May and June, unemployment rates dropped in 13 of the state’s 14 metro areas. Rocky Mount had the highest unemployment rate (9.6 percent), followed by Fayetteville (7.5 percent) and Greenville and Hickory-Morganton-Lenoir (both 6.9 percent). Asheville had the lowest unemployment rate (4.9 percent), followed by Durham-Chapel Hill (5.1 percent) and Raleigh-Cary (5.2 percent). 

Compared to June 2013, unemployment rates in June 2014 were lower in all 100 counties and all 14 metro areas. Over the year, however, labor force sizes decreased in 90 counties and in 12 metros. In fact, the statewide labor force (seasonally adjusted) was 0.3 percent smaller (-11,953 individuals) in June 2014 than it was in June 2013. 

Among metros, Rocky Mount’s labor force contracted at the fastest rate (-3.4 percent) over the course of the year, followed by Fayetteville (-3.1 percent) and Hickory-Morganton-Lenoir (-2.9 percent). With those changes, metro areas now are home to 72 percent of the state’s labor force, with 50.8 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, although improved in recent months, remains subdued. Collectively, employment in the three metro regions has risen by 5.9 percent since December 2007, and the combined unemployment rate in June totaled 6 percent (compared to 5.8 percent in June 2008). Of the three broad regions, the Research Triangle had the lowest June unemployment rate (5.3 percent), followed by Charlotte (6.4 percent) and the Piedmont Triad (6.5 percent).  

The local employment report for June also provided insights into the effects of the extensive changes to the state’s system of unemployment insurance implemented last summer. Last month, the number of regular unemployment insurance initial claims filed in North Carolina totaled 24,209, down from the 44,734 initial claims filed a year earlier (-45.9 percent). 

Mecklenburg County was home to greatest number of regular initial claims (2,961), followed by Wake (2,103), Guilford (1,522), Cumberland (860), and Forsyth (822) counties. 

In June 2014, North Carolinians received a (nominal) total of $38 million in regular state-funded and federal unemployment insurance compensation, down from the (nominal) $189.4 million received in June 2013. This sharp decline (-79.9 percent) is attributable to a mix of factors, such as drops in the number of insurance claims resulting from economic improvements and legal changes that restricted eligibility for insurance compensation. 

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 June. Between June 2013 and June 2014, the amount of federal unemployment insurance benefits paid to North Carolinians fell by 98.8 percent, dropping to a (nominal) total of $1.1 million from a (nominal) total of $95.2 million. (Note that the US Congress allowed the EUC program to expire at the start of 2014.)

“Despite recent improvements in some important indicators, labor market conditions in communities across North Carolina still have not returned to their pre-recessionary states,” said Quinterno. “The June data showed little deviation from the basic pattern that has characterized the state’s labor market for the past four years; namely, a painfully slow recovery.” 

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