10.28.2011 News Releases, Policy Points

Local Job Markets Little Changed From Last Year

CHAPEL HILL (October 28, 2011) — Between September 2010 and September 2011, unemployment rates rose in 87 of North Carolina’s 100 counties and in 13 of the state’s 14 metropolitan areas. At the same time, 37 counties and 6 metros had labor forces in September that were smaller in size compared to one year ago. These findings come from new estimates from the Employment Security Commission.

“Unemployment rates increased across most 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 58 counties, at least 10 percent of the labor force was unemployed in September, up from 37 counties a year ago. Similarly, the size of the labor force fell in 37 counties, which suggests that joblessness is more widespread than reflected in the official unemployment measure.”

Since the economy fell into recession in December 2007, North Carolina has lost, on net, 7.4 percent of its payroll employment base (-308,600 positions) and has seen its unadjusted unemployment rate climb from 4.7 percent to 10 percent. In September, the state lost 22,200 more payroll jobs than it added. Since bottoming out in February 2010, the state’s labor market has netted an average of 758 jobs per month, resulting in a cumulative gain of just 14,400 positions (+0.9 percent).

Between August and September, unemployment rates fell in all 100 counties. Unemployment rates nevertheless were at or above 10 percent in 58 counties. Individual county rates ranged from 5.1 percent in Currituck County to 17.3 percent in Scotland County. Compared to a year ago, unemployment rates were higher in 87 counties, unchanged in one county, and lower in 12 counties.

“Non-metropolitan labor markets remained particularly weak in September,” added Quinterno. “Last month, 11 percent of the non-metro labor force was unemployed, compared to 9.6 percent of the metro labor force. Over the year, the size of the rural labor force and the number of employed rural residents rose by 1.3 percent and 0.6 percent, respectively, but the number of unemployed individuals jumped by 7.5 percent. This dynamic drove the unemployment rate to 11 percent from 10.3 percent. Compared to December 2007, the non-metro labor force now is 2.9 percent smaller. Similarly, the number of employed rural residents has fallen by 8.5 percent, while the number of unemployed rural persons has nearly doubled.”

Last month, unemployment rates rose in 13 of the state’s metropolitan areas and held steady in one metro, Charlotte-Gastonia. Rocky Mount had the highest unemployment rate (13.4 percent), followed by Hickory-Morganton-Lenoir (12 percent). Durham-Chapel Hill had the lowest rate (7.7 percent), followed by Asheville (8.1 percent).

Compared to September 2010, unemployment rates were higher in 87 counties and 13 metros. Moreover, 37 counties and 6 metros had smaller labor forces. Among metros, Hickory-Morganton-Lenoir recorded the largest decline in the size of its labor force (-1.4 percent), followed by Wilmington (-0.7 percent). Fayetteville posted the largest increase (+3.5 percent), followed by Winston-Salem (+2.2 percent), and Raleigh-Cary (+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 3.9 percent since December 2007, and the combined September unemployment rate in the three metros equaled 9.4 percent. Of the three broad regions, the Research Triangle had the lowest unemployment rate (8.3 percent), followed by the Piedmont Triad (10.2 percent), and Charlotte (11 percent).

“North Carolina’s local labor markets recorded few improvements over the past year,” said Quinterno. “Statewide job growth ground to a halt, and as a result, unemployment actually increased across much of the state. Unfortunately, little evidence suggests that the trends will change anytime soon absent policy intervention.”

“With only three months left in the year, 2011 is well on its way to being yet another lost year for North Carolina’s local job markets.”

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