03.25.2011 News Releases, Policy Points

Short Month Sees Solid Job Growth

CHAPEL HILL (March 25, 2011) – In February, North Carolina’s employers added 17,400 more payroll positions than they eliminated, according to data released today by the Employment Security Commission. This monthly gain was the single-largest one recorded since the state’s labor market bottomed out in late 2009. Nevertheless, joblessness remains a serious problem in North Carolina. Over the past year, total payroll employment in the state rose by just 0.8 percent—a pace that will not close the large jobs gap anytime soon.

“Solid job growth in February was a nice change from the unimpressive numbers recorded in recent months,” said John Quinterno, a principal with South by North Strategies, Ltd., a research firm specializing in economic and social policy. “February was the best month of job growth since the state’s labor market bottomed out in December 2009. While positive growth is good news, the pace of growth remains insufficient to close the jobs gap anytime soon.”

Last month, North Carolina employers added 17,400 more payroll positions than they cut. Net gains in the private sector (+20,400) were offset by net losses in the public sector (-3,000). Among private industries, professional and business services netted the most positions (+6,800), followed by construction (+4,500), and education and health services (+4,100). The gains were offset by drops in trade, transportation, and utilities (-1,600) and financial activities (-700).

Additionally, a revision to the January data found that the state gained 500 more payroll positions that first thought (+5,000 versus original estimate of +4,500). With that revision, North Carolina has lost, on net, 292,500 positions—seven percent of its payroll employment base—since December 2007.

“One solid jobs report does not a recovery make,” noted Quinterno. “The question is whether the February report was a one-off or the start of a trend. Yet even if the rate of job growth continues at the pace of the past year, the goal of a full recovery remains far in the distance.”

Between February 2010 and February 2011, North Carolina netted 30,500 jobs (0.8 percent). All of the growth (+41,700 positions) occurred in the private sector, while the public sector shed 11,200 positions. In terms of individual industries, professional and business services grew the most in absolute and relative terms (+22,700, +4.8 percent). Construction shed the most jobs in absolute and relative terms (-6,400, -3.6 percent). In the public sector, net job loss resulted almost entirely from reductions at the state (-4,100, -2.1 percent) and local (-7,900, -1.8 percent) levels.

The household data for February, meanwhile, were mixed. Last month, the total number of employed individuals increased slightly (+0.1 percent), while the number of unemployed individuals dropped by 4,275 (-1 percent). Over the past year, the number of unemployed North Carolinians fell by 84,742 (-16.3 percent). Unfortunately, much of this decline was attributable to individuals exiting the labor force. Between February 2010 and February 2011, the size of the labor force contracted by 91,962 individuals (-2 percent).

The February unemployment rate of 9.7 percent was down from the January rate of 9.8 percent. It also was the lowest monthly rate recorded since January 2009, when 9.2 percent of the labor force was unemployed. Over the past year, the unemployment rate fell sharply, dropping to 9.7 percent from 11.4 percent.

“While welcome, the positive job growth recorded over the past year has done little to close the state’s job gap or reduce unemployment to acceptable levels,” observed Quinterno. “The contraction in the size of the labor force remains a real concern. Compared to a year ago, smaller shares of the working-age population are either participating in the labor force or have jobs.

“The positive job growth recorded in February should not obscure the fact that North Carolina’s labor market remains in critical condition,” added Quinterno. “At the current rate of job growth, it will take years to replace the positions lost during the recession, to say nothing of accommodating the state’s growing working-age population. North Carolina still has a long way to go.”

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