09.23.2011 News Releases, Policy Points

August A Rough Month For Local Job Markets

CHAPEL HILL (September 23, 2011) – Between August 2010 and August 2011, unemployment rates rose in 76 of North Carolina’s 100 counties and in 11 of the state’s 14 metropolitan areas. At the same time, 49 counties and 10 metros had labor forces in August that were smaller compared to one year ago. These findings come from new estimates from the Employment Security Commission.

“Employment conditions deteriorated 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. “In many places, unemployment is more pronounced than was the case in August 2010. Many local job markets simply have shown no signs of improvement.”

Since the economy fell into recession in December 2007, North Carolina has lost, on net, 6.9 percent of its payroll employment base (-289,300 positions) and has seen its unadjusted unemployment rate climb from 4.7 percent to 10.4 percent. In August, the state gained 16,500 more payroll jobs than it lost. Since bottoming out in February 2010, the state has netted an average of 1,872 jobs per month, leading to a cumulative gain of just 33,700 jobs (+0.9 percent).

Between July and August, unemployment rates rose in 47 counties, held steady in 21 counties, and fell in 32 counties. Unemployment rates were at or above 10 percent in 70 counties. Individual county rates ranged from 4.5 percent in Currituck County to 17.6 percent in Scotland County. Compared to a year ago, unemployment rates were higher in 76 counties, unchanged in 3 counties, and lower in 21 counties.

“Non-metropolitan labor markets remained particularly weak in August,” added Quinterno. “Last month, 11.4 percent of the non-metro labor force was unemployed, compared to 10.1 percent of the metro labor force. Over the year, the size of the rural labor force and the number of employed rural residents rose slightly, but the number of unemployed individuals rose as well, which caused the unemployment rate to increase. When compared to December 2007, the non-metro labor force now is 2.7 percent smaller. Similarly, the number of unemployed individuals has doubled, while the number of employed persons has fallen by 8.7 percent.”

Last month, unemployment rates rose in 10 of the state’s metropolitan areas. Rocky Mount had the highest rate (13.6 percent), followed by Hickory-Morganton-Lenoir (12.5 percent). Durham-Chapel Hill had the lowest rate (8.2 percent), followed by Asheville (8.4 percent).

Compared to August 2010, unemployment rates were higher in 76 counties and 11 metros. Moreover, 49 counties and 10 metros had smaller labor forces. Among metros, Hickory-Morganton-Lenoir (-2.2 percent) recorded the largest decline in the size of its labor force, followed by Asheville (-1.4 percent). Rocky Mount posted the largest increase (+2.9 percent), followed by Fayetteville (+2.3 percent), and Winston-Salem (+1.5 percent).

In the long term, any meaningful recovery will hinge on growth in the state’s three major regions: Charlotte, the Research Triangle, and the Piedmont Triad. Yet growth remains sluggish. Collectively, employment in these three metro regions has fallen by 4.8 percent since December 2007, and the combined August unemployment rate in the three metros equaled 9.9 percent. Of the three, the Research Triangle had the lowest unemployment rate (8.8 percent), followed by the Piedmont Triad (10.7 percent), and Charlotte (11.4 percent).

“Labor market condition worsened across much of North Carolina over the past year,” said Quinterno. “Private-sector job growth remains sluggish, and the gains that are occurring are being erased by public-sector cuts. So far this year, public-sector cuts have offset 26 percent of the private-sector gains recorded in the state. Many labor market indicators are moving in the wrong direction and are offering little evidence that improvements are likely to occur later in the year.”

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