07.01.2015 News Releases, Policy Points

Unemployment Down Across NC Over the Year

CHAPEL HILL, NC (July 1, 2015) Between May 2014 and May 2015, unemployment rates fell in 87 of North Carolina’s 100 counties and in 14 of the state’s 15 metropolitan areas. Over the same period, the size of the local labor force shrank in 52 counties and in 4 metro areas.

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

“As typically happens at the start of the summer, seasonally unadjusted local unemployment rates generally rose between April and May,” said John Quinterno, a principal with South by North Strategies, Ltd., a research firm specializing in economic and social policy. “Compared to May 2014, employment conditions improved across a broad swath of North Carolina, particularly in the state’s largest metropolitan regions.”

Compared to December 2007, which is when the national economy fell into recession, North Carolina now has 1.8 percent more payroll jobs (+75,200). In May 2015, the state gained 10,400 more jobs than it lost (+0.2 percent). Since bottoming out in February 2010, the state’s labor market has netted some 6,400 payroll jobs per month, resulting in a cumulative gain of 402,000 payroll jobs (+10.5 percent).

Between April and May of 2015, local unemployment rates rose in 97 of the state’s 100 counties, decreased in 2 counties, and held constant in 1 county. Individual county rates in May ranged from 4.5 percent in Buncombe County to 12 percent in Graham County. Overall, 3 counties posted unemployment rates greater than or equal to 10 percent, and 62 counties posted rates between 5.9 and 9.9 percent; 35 counties had unemployment rates between 4.5 and 5.8 percent.

“The combined May unemployment rate in North Carolina’s non-metropolitan counties was 4.9 percent,” noted Quinterno. “These 54 non-metropolitan counties are home to 21.9 percent of the state’s labor force. Compared to December 2007, non-metro areas have 4.5 percent fewer employed persons, while the number of unemployed individuals is 27 percent greater. Over that time, the size of the non-metro labor force has fallen by 3.2 percent. In fact, non-metropolitan North Carolina has been responsible for the entire decline in the state’s labor force that has occurred since late 2007.”

Earlier this year, the Labor and Economic Analysis Division implemented new definitions of metropolitan and non-metropolitan counties consistent with federal changes made based on the 2010 Census. With those updates, North Carolina now has 46 metropolitan counties and 54 non-metropolitan ones. Additionally, the state now has 15 metropolitan statistical areas, up from 14; the addition is the three-county New Bern metro area.

Between April and May, unemployment rates rose in all 15 of the state’s metro areas. Rocky Mount had the highest unemployment rate (8.6 percent), followed by Fayetteville (7.6 percent) and Greenville (6.5 percent). Asheville had the lowest unemployment rate (4.7 percent), followed by Raleigh-Cary (4.9 percent), Durham-Chapel Hill (5.1 percent), Burlington (5.4 percent), and Wilmington (5.5 percent).

Compared to May 2014, unemployment rates in May 2015 were lower in 87 counties and in 14 metro areas. Over the year, however, labor force sizes decreased in 52 counties and in 4 metros. The statewide labor force (unadjusted), meanwhile, was 2.1 percent larger (+100,073 individuals) in May 2015 than it was in May 2014.

All of the year-over-year growth in the size of the state’s labor force occurred in metro areas, which collectively added 115,949 persons (+3.2 percent). Among metros, Burlington’s labor force grew at the fastest rate (+10.1 percent) over the course of the year, followed by Charlotte (+6.7 percent) and Raleigh (+5.6 percent).

Decreases in labor force sizes occurred in Fayetteville (-9.3 percent), Jacksonville (-3.4 percent), and Goldsboro (-0.9 percent), while the size of the labor force in Greenville essentially was unchanged.

With those changes, metro areas now are home to 78.2 percent of the state’s labor force, with 56.2 percent of the labor force residing in the Triangle, Triad, and Charlotte metros.

Improvements in North Carolina’s overall labor market are being driven by developments in the Charlotte, Research Triangle, and Piedmont Triad regions. Over the year, unemployment rates fell in 4 of the 5 metro areas that constitute those regions and held steady in 1. Collectively, employment in the 3 broad regions has risen by 10.9 percent since December 2007, and the combined unemployment rate in May totaled 5.4 percent, as compared to 4.5 percent in December 2007. These regions also were responsible for almost all of the employment growth that occurred over the year.

Of the three broad regions, the Research Triangle had the lowest May unemployment rate (5.2 percent), followed by Charlotte (5.7 percent) and the Piedmont Triad (5.8 percent).

Last month, the number of regular unemployment insurance initial claims filed in North Carolina totaled 19,822 down from the 23,306 initial claims filed a year earlier (-14.9 percent). Mecklenburg County was home to greatest number of regular initial claims (2,456), followed by Wake (1,677), Guilford (1,354), Forsyth (830), and Cumberland (729) counties.

In May 2015, North Carolinians received a (nominal) total of $23.2 million in regular state-funded unemployment insurance compensation, down from the (nominal) $35.4 million received in May 2014. This decline (-34.5 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 have restricted eligibility for unemployment insurance compensation.

“Many labor markets across North Carolina, particularly some of the largest metropolitan markets, have experienced improvements over the past year,” said Quinterno. “At the same time, the overall pace of recovery remains subdued, with many non-metropolitan places actually losing ground. Over five years into a recovery, the health of local labor markets still can’t be ignored.”

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