CHAPEL HILL, NC (October 29, 2014) – Between September 2013 and September 2014, unemployment rates fell in 98 of North Carolina’s 100 counties and in all 14 of the state’s metropolitan areas. Yet over the same period, the size of the local labor force shrank in 78 counties and in 9 metro areas.
These findings come from new estimates released today by the Labor and Economic Analysis Division of the North Carolina Department of Commerce.
“Local unemployment rates have fallen steadily 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. “At the same time, the declines do not alter the fact that unemployment remains a serious problem. In fact, 34 counties and 4 metro areas had unemployment rates in September 2014 that exceeded those posted in September 2008.”
Compared to December 2007, which is when the national economy fell into recession, North Carolina now has 0.1 percent more payroll jobs (+2,000). In September, the state gained 14,000 more jobs than it lost (+0.3 percent). Since bottoming out in February 2010, the state’s labor market has netted some 6,015 jobs per month, resulting in a cumulative gain of 330,800 positions (+8.6 percent).
Between August and September 2014, local unemployment rates decreased in 98 of the state’s 100 counties, increased in one county, and held constant in one county. Individual county rates in September ranged from 4.2 percent in Currituck County to 12.2 percent in Graham County. Overall, 3 counties posted unemployment rates greater than or equal to 10 percent, and 60 counties posted rates between 6.1 and 9.9 percent.
“Non-metropolitan labor markets continue to lag behind metropolitan ones,” noted Quinterno. “In September, 6.8 percent of the non-metro labor force was unemployed, compared to 5.8 percent of the metro labor force. Compared to December 2007, the non-metro labor force now has 5.1 percent fewer employed persons, while the number of unemployed individuals is 15.4 percent larger. Over that time, the size of the non-metro labor force has fallen by 3.9 percent. In fact, North Carolina’s total labor force in September would have been 1.1 percent larger if the size of the non-metropolitan labor force had held steady, all else being equal”
Between August and September, unemployment rates fell in all of the state’s 14 metro areas. Rocky Mount had the highest unemployment rate (8.8 percent), followed by Fayetteville (7.1 percent) and Goldsboro, Jacksonville, and Hickory-Morganton-Lenoir (all at 6.5 percent). Asheville had the lowest unemployment rate (4.6 percent), followed by Durham-Chapel Hill (4.9 percent) and Raleigh-Cary (5 percent).
Compared to September 2013, unemployment rates in September 2014 were lower in 98 counties and all 14 metro areas. Over the year, however, labor force sizes decreased in 78 counties and in 9 metros. And the statewide labor force (seasonally adjusted) was 0.7 percent smaller (-31,038 individuals) in September 2014 than it was in September 2013.
Among metros, Rocky Mount’s labor force contracted at the fastest rate (-2.9 percent) over the course of the year, followed by Fayetteville (-2.3 percent) and Hickory-Morganton-Lenoir (-1.9 percent). With those changes, metro areas now are home to 72.3 percent of the state’s labor force, with 51.1 percent of the labor force residing in the Triangle, Triad, and Charlotte metros.
In the long term, improvements in overall labor market conditions depend on growth in the Charlotte, Research Triangle, and Piedmont Triad regions. Collectively, employment in the three metro regions has risen by 6.2 percent since December 2007, and the combined unemployment rate in September totaled 5.6 percent, as compared to 6 percent in September 2008. Of the three broad regions, the Research Triangle had the lowest unemployment rate (5.1 percent), followed by Charlotte (6.2 percent) and the Piedmont Triad (6.1percent).
The local employment report for September also provided insights into the effects of the extensive changes to the state’s system of unemployment insurance implemented in 2013. Last month, the number of regular unemployment insurance initial claims filed in North Carolina totaled 21,023, down from the 26,051 initial claims filed a year earlier (-19.3 percent).
Mecklenburg County was home to greatest number of regular initial claims (2,517), followed by Wake (1,767), Guilford (1,106), Cumberland (786), and Forsyth (698) counties.
In September 2014, North Carolinians received a (nominal) total of $36.3 million in regular state-funded and federal unemployment insurance compensation, down from the (nominal) $80.4 million received in September 2013. This decline (-54.9 percent) is attributable to a mix of factors, such as drops in the number of insurance claims resulting from economic improvements and legal changes that restricted eligibility for insurance compensation.
Additionally, the state’s decision to exit the federal Emergency Unemployment Compensation (EUC) program reduced the amount of federal unemployment insurance compensation flowing into the state. Between September 2013 and September 2014, the amount of federal unemployment insurance benefits paid to North Carolinians fell by 71.7 percent, dropping to a (nominal) total of $1.3 million from a (nominal) total of $4.6 million. (Note that the US Congress allowed the EUC program to expire at the start of 2014.)
“Even with recent improvements in certain important indicators, many local labor markets—non-metropolitan ones in particular—continue to underperform and have yet to recover from the last recession,” said Quinterno. “The September data were consistent with the basic pattern of slow growth that has characterized the state’s economy for the past 4.5 years.”