04.27.2011 News Releases, Policy Points

Progress Of A Kind

CHAPEL HILL (April 27, 2011) – Between March 2010 and March 2011, unemployment rates fell in 98 of North Carolina’s 100 counties and in all 14 of the state’s metropolitan areas. At the same time, 81 counties and 13 metro areas had labor forces in March that were smaller than they were one year ago. These findings come from estimates released today by the Employment Security Commission.

“While unemployment rates fell across North Carolina over the past year, many local job markets remain deeply scarred by the recession,” said John Quinterno, a principal with South by North Strategies, Ltd., a research firm specializing in economic and social policy. “Joblessness remains widespread, and despite some recent improvements, job growth is not occurring at the pace needed to accommodate all the North Carolinians who need and want work.”

Since the economy fell into recession in December 2007, North Carolina has lost, on net, 6.6 percent of its payroll employment base (-277,100 positions) and has seen its unadjusted unemployment rate climb from 4.7 percent to the current level of 9.7 percent. In March, the state gained 13,900 more payroll jobs than were lost. Over the past year, North Carolina employers have added 36,500 more payroll jobs than they have cut.

Unemployment rates fell across much of the state in March. Unemployment rates were at or above 10 percent in 61 counties, but compared to a year ago, unemployment rates were lower in 98 counties. Individual county rates in March ranged from 6.1 percent in Orange County to 16.4 percent in Graham County. Of the five counties with the lowest unemployment rates, four were in the Research Triangle area (Orange, Chatham, Durham, and Wake counties).

“Labor markets in non-metropolitan communities remain particularly weak,” added Quinterno. “Last month, 10.8 percent of the non-metro labor force was unemployed, compared to 9.3 percent of the metro labor force. While the non-metro unemployment rate declined over the course of the year, so did the size of the labor force. When compared to December 2007, the non-metro labor force is 3.5 percent smaller.”

Last month, unemployment rates fell in all 14 of the state’s metropolitan areas. Rocky Mount had the highest unemployment rate (12.5 percent), followed by the Hickory-Morganton-Lenoir area (11.9 percent). Durham-Chapel Hill had the lowest rate (7.1 percent).

Compared to March 2010, unemployment rates were lower in 98 counties and every metro area. Yet 81 counties and 13 metro areas had smaller labor forces. Among metros, Hickory-Morganton-Lenoir (-4.8 percent) recorded the largest decline, followed by Winston-Salem (-2.5 percent) and Rocky Mount (-2.4 percent). Raleigh-Cary posted the only gain (+0.2 percent).

“While seven of North Carolina’s metro areas—led by Raleigh-Cary, Burlington, and Wilmington—recorded modest rates of employment growth over the past year, overall growth levels were insufficient to cure joblessness,” cautioned Quinterno. “Much of the recent improvement in unemployment rates is due to the exiting of workers from the labor market, even though such individuals are effectively unemployed.”

In the long term, any meaningful recovery will be driven by growth in the state’s three major metro regions: Charlotte, the Research Triangle, and the Piedmont Triad. Yet growth has been sluggish. Collectively, employment in these three metro regions has fallen by 4.4 percent since December 2007. The combined March unemployment rate in the three major metros equaled 9 percent. Of the three areas, the Research Triangle had the lowest unemployment rate (7.7 percent), followed by the Piedmont Triad (10 percent), and Charlotte (10.7 percent).

“Since December 2009, the month when then the state’s labor market bottomed out, local unemployment rates have fallen across North Carolina, but during the same time, the total size of the state’s labor force fell as well,” noted Quinterno. “While some meaningful progress has been made over the last year, local labor markets remain far from healthy.”

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