12.30.2014 News Releases, Policy Points

Local Unemployment Rates Down Across NC

CHAPEL HILL, NC (December 30, 2014) – Between November 2013 and November 2014, unemployment rates fell in all 100 counties in North Carolina and in all 14 of the state’s metropolitan areas. Yet over the same period, the size of the local labor force shrank in 89 counties and in 12 metro areas.

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

“Local unemployment rates declined, often sharply, across much 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. “At the same time, the reductions do not alter the fact that unemployment remains a pressing economic and problem almost seven years after the onset of the last recession.”

Compared to December 2007, which is when the national economy fell into recession, North Carolina now has 0.8 percent more payroll jobs (+34,900). In November, the state gained 16,400 more jobs than it lost (+0.4 percent). Since bottoming out in February 2010, the state’s labor market has netted some 6,400 jobs per month, resulting in a cumulative gain of 363,700 positions (+9.5 percent).

Between October and November of 2014, local unemployment rates decreased in 72 of the state’s 100 counties, increased in 20 counties, and held constant in eight counties. Individual county rates in November ranged from 3.7 percent in County to 11.4 percent in Graham County. Overall, 2 counties posted unemployment rates greater than or equal to 10 percent, and 41 counties posted rates between 6 and 9.9 percent.

“Non-metropolitan labor markets continue to trail metropolitan ones,” noted Quinterno. “In November, 6 percent of the non-metro labor force was unemployed, compared to 5.1 percent of the metro labor force. Compared to December 2007, the non-metro labor force now has 5.7 percent fewer employed persons, while the number of unemployed individuals is 1.5 percent larger. Over that time, the size of the non-metro labor force has fallen by 5.3 percent. In fact, North Carolina’s total labor force in November would have been 1.5 percent larger if the size of the non-metropolitan labor force had held steady at its pre-recession level, all else being equal.”

Between October and November, unemployment rates fell in all of the state’s 14 metro areas. Rocky Mount had the highest unemployment rate (7.9 percent), followed by Fayetteville (6.2 percent) and Goldsboro (5.8 percent). Asheville had the lowest unemployment rate (4 percent), followed by Durham-Chapel Hill and Raleigh-Cary (both 4.3 percent).

Compared to November 2013, unemployment rates in November 2014 were lower in all 100 counties and in all 14 metro areas. Over the year, however, labor force sizes decreased in 89 counties and in 12 metros. And the statewide labor force (seasonally adjusted) was 0.7 percent smaller (-31,665 individuals) in November 2014 than it was in November 2013.

Among metros, Rocky Mount’s labor force contracted at the fastest rate (-3.6 percent) over the course of the year, followed by Fayetteville (-2.9 percent) and Hickory-Morganton-Lenoir (-2.8 percent). With those changes, metro areas now are home to 72.5 percent of the state’s labor force, with 51.3 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. Collectively, employment in the three metro regions has risen by 6.7 percent since December 2007, and the combined unemployment rate in November totaled 4.9 percent, as compared to 6.8 percent in November 2008. Of the three broad regions, the Research Triangle had the lowest unemployment rate (4.4 percent), followed by the Piedmont Triad (5.2 percent) and Charlotte (5.4 percent).

The local employment report for November also provided insights into the effects of the extensive changes to the state’s system of unemployment insurance implemented in 2013. Last month, the number of regular unemployment insurance initial claims filed in North Carolina totaled 20,011, down from the 26,273 initial claims filed a year earlier (-23.4 percent).

Mecklenburg County was home to greatest number of regular initial claims (2,039), followed by Wake (1,494), Guilford (1,014), Cumberland (692), and Forsyth (598) counties.

In November 2014, North Carolinians received a (nominal) total of $27 million in regular state-funded and federal unemployment insurance compensation, down from the (nominal) $55.7 million received in November 2013. This decline (-51.5 percent) is attributable to a mix of factors, such as drops in the number of insurance claims resulting from economic improvements and legal changes that restricted eligibility for insurance compensation.

“Many labor markets across North Carolina have experienced improvements over the past year,” said Quinterno. “While those improvements are important, they must not obscure the fact that many local labor markets—non-metropolitan ones in particular—continue to underperform and have not yet recovered from the last recession.”

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