09.19.2014 News Releases, Policy Points

NC’S Labor Market Wilts In August

CHAPEL HILL, NC (September 19, 2014) – In August, employers in North Carolina added 12,500 more payroll jobs than they cut (+0.3 percent), due largely to hiring by local governments. The monthly household survey, meanwhile, recorded a rise in the unemployment rate to 6.8 percent, even though the size of the labor force fell over the month. With those changes, North Carolina has 0.3 percent fewer jobs, 37.7 percent more unemployed persons, and a much higher unemployment rate (+1.8 percentage points) than it did over 6.5 years ago.

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

“The August employment report offered little evidence of a labor market that has turned a corner,” said John Quinterno, a principal with South by North Strategies, Ltd., a research firm specializing in economic and social policy. “Last month, North Carolina netted some jobs, but at the same time, the state experienced declines in the size of the labor force and the number of employed residents. Although conditions in the state are better in some ways than they were a year ago, they still have not returned to healthy levels.”

Between July 2014 and August 2014, North Carolina employers added 12,500 more jobs than they cut (+0.3 percent). Private-sector payrolls netted just 4,000 positions (+0.1 percent), and public-sector payrolls gained, on net, 8,500 jobs (+1.2 percent), owing primarily to net hiring by local governments (+6,700, +1.6 percent). Within private industry, the education and health services sector netted the most jobs (+2,700, +0.5 percent), followed by the professional and business services sector (+2,500, +0.4 percent) and the manufacturing sector (+1,900, +0.4 percent). Meanwhile, the leisure and hospitality services sector shed the most jobs (-3,300 jobs, -0.7 percent), followed by the construction sector (-1,300, -0.7 percent). All other major industrial sectors experienced few changes in payroll sizes.

A revision to the July 2014 payroll data found that the state gained 1,400 more jobs that month than first estimated (+17,200 versus +15,800). With the revision, North Carolina has, on net, 14,300 fewer payroll positions (-0.3 percent) than it did in December 2007. Since bottoming out in February 2010, the state has netted an average of 5,800 payroll jobs per month, resulting in a cumulative gain of 314,500 positions (+8.2 percent). At that rate, holding all else equal, it would take until later this year 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 accelerated radically in recent years,” noted Quinterno. “Between August 2013 and August 2014, the total number of payroll jobs in North Carolina grew by 2.4 percent. Between August 2012 and August 2013, the total of number payroll jobs in North Carolina rose by 1.7 percent, while between August 2011 and August 2012, the rate of growth was 1.6 percent. In effect, North Carolina has been mired in a pattern of slow job growth for the past several years.”

The household data recorded in August contained negative news about the state’s labor market. Last month, the statewide unemployment rate rose to 6.8 percent, which was the highest rate logged so far this year. Furthermore, the underlying dynamics of the labor market were unimpressive. Last month, the number of employed persons in the state fell by 28,666 (-0.7 percent), while the number of unemployed persons increased by 10,404 (+3.4 percent). And last month, the size of the North Carolina labor force decreased by 18,262 persons (-0.4 percent).

While the changes in household data recorded between July and August were negative, the changes over the past year were more mixed. Between August 2013 and August 2014, the number of unemployed North Carolinians fell by 57,505 persons (-15.4 percent), but 49.7 percent of the decline was attributable to people who left the labor force entirely. If those 28,567 persons were added back to the labor force and considered unemployed, the statewide unemployment rate in August 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 7.1 percent.

Year-over-year declines in the statewide labor force participation rate provide additional evidence of an underperforming labor market. In August, the share of working-age North Carolinians participating in the labor market was 60.5 percent, which was lower than the 61.6 percent figure logged a year ago, as well as the lowest monthly rate recorded at any time since January 1976.

In addition, another important measure of labor utilization, the employment-to-population ratio, fell over the year, dropping to 56.4 percent from 56.7 percent. The current share of working-age North Carolinians with a job now is just 0.1 percentage points above the 38-year low of 56.3 percent posted in 2011.

The August labor market report provides additional insight into the effects of the extensive changes to the state’s system of unemployment insurance implemented last summer. Between July and August, the number of claimants of regular state-funded insurance rose by 1 percent, increasing to 39,466 from 39,066. Compared to a year earlier, however, 35,024 fewer individuals received regular state-funded insurance in August (-47 percent).

Also in August, the state paid a (nominal) total of $33.1 million in regular state-funded unemployment insurance compensation, an amount 56.2 percent lower than the (nominal) total of $75.6 million paid in August 2013.

“North Carolina netted jobs in August, but the current pace of job growth is not much greater than the rate needed to keep pace with population growth,” added Quinterno. “Observers also should be concerned that the number of unemployed North Carolinians and the statewide unemployment rate have trended upward in recent months, while the number of employed persons has trended downward. Keep in mind, too, that a steady decline in the size of the labor force is masking some of the broader problems in the labor market and actually making conditions appear somewhat better than they are.”

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