CHAPEL HILL, NC (June 3, 2015) – Between April 2014 and April 2015, unemployment rates fell in 95 of North Carolina’s 100 counties and in all 15 of the state’s metropolitan areas. Over the same period, the size of the local labor force shrank in 53 counties and in 2 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 declined throughout 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. “While noteworthy, the declines in local unemployment rates do not alter the fact that many local labor markets still have not recovered from the last recession.”
Compared to December 2007, which is when the national economy fell into recession, North Carolina now has 1.5 percent more payroll jobs (+63,500). In April 2015, the state gained 11,100 more jobs than it lost (+0.3 percent). Since bottoming out in February 2010, the state’s labor market has netted some 6,300 payroll jobs per month, resulting in a cumulative gain of 390,000 payroll jobs (+10.2 percent).
Between March and April of 2015, local unemployment rates decreased in 89 of the state’s 100 counties, increased in 6 counties, and held constant in 5 counties. Individual county rates in April ranged from 3.9 percent in Orange and Buncombe counties to 12.8 percent in Graham County. Overall, 2 counties posted unemployment rates greater than or equal to 10 percent, and 61 counties posted rates between 5.3 and 9.9 percent.
“The combined unemployment rate in North Carolina’s non-metropolitan counties in April was 4.2 percent,” noted Quinterno. “These 54 non-metropolitan counties are home to 21.8 percent of the state’s labor force. Compared to December 2007, non-metro areas have 5 percent fewer employed persons, while the number of unemployed individuals is 8.4 percent greater. Over that time, the size of the non-metro labor force has fallen by 4.5 percent. In fact, non-metropolitan North Carolina has been responsible for the entire decline in the state’s labor force that has occurred since late 2007.”
Earlier this year, the Labor and Economic Analysis Division implemented new definitions of metropolitan and non-metropolitan counties consistent with federal changes made based on the 2010 Census. With those updates, North Carolina now has 46 metropolitan counties and 54 no-nmetropolitan ones. Additionally, the state now has 15 metropolitan statistical areas, up from 14; the addition is the three-county New Bern metro area.
Between March and April, unemployment rates fell in 13 of the state’s 15 metro areas, increased in 1 metro area, and held steady in 1 metro area. Rocky Mount had the highest unemployment rate (7.9 percent), followed by Fayetteville (6.8 percent) and New Bern (5.7 percent). Asheville had the lowest unemployment rate (4.1 percent), followed by Raleigh-Cary (4.3 percent), Durham-Chapel Hill (4.4 percent), Burlington (4.7 percent), and Wilmington and Winston-Salem (both 4.9 percent).
Compared to April 2014, unemployment rates in April 2015 were lower in 95 counties and in all 15 metro areas. Over the year, however, labor force sizes decreased in 53 counties and in 2 metros. The statewide labor force (unadjusted), meanwhile, was 1.9 percent larger (+89,077 individuals) in April 2015 than it was in April 2014.
All of the year-over-year growth in the size of the state’s labor force occurred in metro areas, which collectively added 101,653 persons (+2.8 percent). Among metros, Burlington’s labor force grew at the fastest rate (+9.5 percent) over the course of the year, followed by Charlotte (+6.7 percent) and Raleigh (+4.7 percent). With those changes, metro areas now are home to 78.2 percent of the state’s labor force, with 56.2 percent of the labor force residing in the Triangle, Triad, and Charlotte metros.
In the long term, improvements in North Carolina’s overall labor market depend on growth in the Charlotte, Research Triangle, and Piedmont Triad regions. Over the year, unemployment rates fell in 4 of the 5 metro areas that constitute those regions and held steady in 1. Collectively, employment in the 3 broad regions has risen by 10.4 percent since December 2007, and the combined unemployment rate in April totaled 4.8 percent, as compared to 4.5 percent in December 2007. Of the three broad regions, the Research Triangle had the lowest April unemployment rate (4.5 percent), followed by the Piedmont Triad and Charlotte (both 5.1 percent).
Last month, the number of regular unemployment insurance initial claims filed in North Carolina totaled 16,151 down from the 19,181 initial claims filed a year earlier (-15.8 percent). Mecklenburg County was home to greatest number of regular initial claims (2,250), followed by Wake (1,628), Guilford (1,115), Forsyth (697), and Cumberland (643) counties.
In April 2015, North Carolinians received a (nominal) total of $22.4 million in regular state-funded unemployment insurance compensation, down from the (nominal) $38.5 million received in April 2014. This decline (-41.8 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 unemployment insurance compensation.
“Many labor markets across North Carolina, particularly some of the largest metropolitan ones, experienced improvements over the past year,” said Quinterno. “At the same time, many local labor markets still have not recovered from the last recession, and in many respects, the state’s labor market remains far from healthy—a reality that policymakers cannot choose to