CHAPEL HILL, NC (February 4, 2015) – Over the course of 2014, unemployment rates fell in 99 of North Carolina’s 100 counties and in all 14 of the state’s metropolitan areas. Yet at the same time, the size of the local labor force shrank in 90 counties and in 12 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 across all of North Carolina over the course of 2014,” 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 continue to underperform when measured in relation to a broader set of important indicators.”
Compared to December 2007, which is when the national economy fell into recession, North Carolina now has 1.2 percent more payroll jobs (+50,700). In December 2014, the state gained 15,100 more jobs than it lost (+0.4 percent). Since bottoming out in February 2010, the state’s labor market has netted some 6,500 payroll jobs per month, resulting in a cumulative gain of 379,500 payroll jobs (+9.9 percent).
Between November and December of 2014, local unemployment rates decreased in 56 of the state’s 100 counties, increased in 28 counties, and held constant in 16 counties. Individual county rates in December ranged from 3.8 percent in Chatham County to 12.3 percent in Graham County. Overall, 2 counties posted unemployment rates greater than or equal to 10 percent, and 39 counties posted rates between 6 and 9.9 percent.
“Non-metropolitan labor markets continue to lag behind metropolitan ones,” noted Quinterno. “In December, 6 percent of the non-metro labor force was unemployed, compared to 5 percent of the metro labor force. Compared to December 2007, the non-metro labor force now has 7.3 percent fewer employed persons, while the number of unemployed individuals is 1 percent smaller. Over that time, the size of the non-metro labor force has fallen by 6.9 percent. In fact, North Carolina’s total labor force in December would have been 2 percent larger if the size of the non-metropolitan labor force had held steady at its pre-recession level, all else being equal.”
Between November and December, unemployment rates fell in 11 of the state’s 14 metro areas and held steady in three metro areas. Rocky Mount had the highest unemployment rate (7.7 percent), followed by Fayetteville (6.1 percent) and Goldsboro (5.7 percent). Asheville had the lowest unemployment rate (4 percent), followed by Raleigh-Cary (4.2 percent), Durham-Chapel Hill (4.3 percent), and Winston-Salem (4.8 percent).
Compared to December 2013, unemployment rates in December 2014 were lower in 99 counties and in all 14 metro areas. Over the year, however, labor force sizes decreased in 90 counties and in 12 metros. And the statewide labor force (seasonally adjusted) was 0.9 percent smaller (-42,245 individuals) in December 2014 than it was in December 2013.
Among metros, Rocky Mount’s labor force contracted at the fastest rate (-4.2 percent) over the course of the year, followed by Hickory-Morganton-Lenoir (-2.8 percent) and Fayetteville (-2.7 percent). With those changes, metro areas now are home to 72.6 percent of the state’s labor force, with 51.5 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 5.8 percent since December 2007, and the combined unemployment rate in December totaled 4.7 percent, as compared to 4.5 percent in December 2007. Of the three broad regions, the Research Triangle had the lowest unemployment rate (4.3 percent), followed by the Piedmont Triad (5.1 percent) and Charlotte (5.3 percent).
The local employment report for December 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 26,767, down from the 33,157 initial claims filed a year earlier (-19.3 percent).
Mecklenburg County was home to greatest number of regular initial claims (2,569), followed by Wake (1,688), Guilford (1,466), Cumberland (917), and Forsyth (840) counties.
In December 2014, North Carolinians received a (nominal) total of $28.5 million in regular state-funded and federal unemployment insurance compensation, down from the (nominal) $62.2 million received in December 2013. This decline (-54.2 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, have experienced improvements over the past year,” said Quinterno. “While those improvements are important, they must not obscure the fact that many local labor markets—non-metropolitan ones especially—continue to underperform and have not yet recovered from the last recession.”