02.03.2016 News Releases, Policy Points

Local Unemployment Rates Rose In 2015

CHAPEL HILL, NC (February 3, 2016) – From December 2014 to December 2015, unemployment rates (unadjusted) rose in 81 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 grew in 59 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.

“In 2015, many local labor markets in North Carolina continued their slow recovery from the last recession,” said John Quinterno, a principal with South by North Strategies, Ltd., a research firm specializing in economic and social policy. “While unemployment rates rose in the overwhelming majority of the state’s counties and metro areas over the year, labor force sizes also increased in many of the same communities. That suggests that rising unemployment rates in many places were driven by people entering or returning to the labor market.”

Compared to December 2007, which is when the national economy fell into recession, North Carolina now has 2.9 percent more payroll jobs (+121,900). In December 2015, the state gained 6,900 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 448,700 payroll jobs (+11.7 percent).

Between November and December of 2015, local unemployment rates fell in 70 of the state’s 100 counties, rose in 21 counties, and held constant in 9 counties. Individual county rates ranged from 3.9 percent in Buncombe County to 12 percent in Graham County. Overall, 3 counties posted unemployment rates greater than or equal to 10 percent, and 34 counties posted rates between 6 and 9.9 percent; 63 counties had unemployment rates between 3.9 and 5.9 percent.

“The combined December unemployment rate in North Carolina’s non-metropolitan counties was 4.2 percent,” noted Quinterno. “These 54 non-metropolitan counties are home to 22 percent of the state’s labor force. Compared to December 2007, non-metro areas have 5.4 percent fewer employed persons, while the number of unemployed individuals is 8.5 percent greater. Over that time, the size of the non-metro labor force has fallen by 4.8 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 in 2015, 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 has 15 metropolitan statistical areas, up from 14; the addition is the three-county New Bern metropolitan statistical area.

Between November and December, unemployment rates fell in 13 of the state’s metro areas. Rocky Mount had the highest unemployment rate (7.3 percent), followed by Fayetteville (6.8 percent) and Goldsboro (5.9 percent). Asheville had the lowest unemployment rate (4.2 percent), followed by Raleigh-Cary (4.4 percent), and Durham-Chapel Hill (4.5 percent).

Compared to December 2014, unemployment rates in December 2015 were higher in 81 counties and in 14 metro areas. Over the year, however, labor force sizes increased in 59 counties and in 12 metros. The statewide labor force (unadjusted), meanwhile, was 3.5 percent larger (+158,693 individuals) in December 2015 than it was in December 2014.

Almost all of the year-over-year growth in the size of the state’s labor force occurred in the state’s metro areas, which collectively added 146,758 persons (+5.8 percent). Among individual metros, Burlington’s labor force grew at the fastest rate (+9.5 percent) over the course of the year, followed by Charlotte (+8.5 percent) and Raleigh (+5.6 percent).

Decreases in labor force sizes occurred in Fayetteville (-9.2 percent), Jacksonville (-5.3 percent), and Goldsboro (-0.4 percent).

With those changes, metro areas now are home to 78.3 percent of the state’s labor force, with 56.6 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. Collectively, employment in the 3 broad regions has risen by 11.5 percent since December 2007; the combined unemployment rate in December 2015 totaled 4.8 percent, 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 December unemployment rate (4.6 percent), followed by Charlotte (4.9 percent) and the Piedmont Triad (5.1 percent).

In December 2015, the number of unemployment insurance initial claims filed in North Carolina totaled 24,427 down from the 26,767 initial claims filed a year earlier (-8.7 percent).

Also in December 2015, North Carolinians received a (nominal) total of $18.7 million in unemployment insurance compensation, down from the (nominal) $27.6 million received in December 2014 (-32.4 percent). The average weekly unemployment insurance payment in North Carolina in December 2015 was $238.

“Many local labor markets in North Carolina experienced some improvements in 2015, but those gains came at a very leisurely pace,” said Quinterno. “Many of the improvements were concentrated in the state’s metropolitan areas, especially the Research Triangle, the Piedmont Triad, and Charlotte. Smaller metros and non-metropolitan areas continue to lag behind during a slow recovery that is about to enter its sixth year.”

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