CHAPEL HILL, NC (July 1, 2014) – Between May 2013 and May 2014, unemployment rates fell in all 100 counties in North Carolina and in all 14 of the state’s metropolitan areas. Yet over the same period, the size of the labor force decreased in in 73 counties and in 7 metro areas.
These findings come from new estimates released by the Labor and Economic Analysis Division of the North Carolina Department of Commerce.
“Local unemployment rates fell across all of North Carolina over the past year, with the unadjusted statewide rate falling by 1.6 percentage points,” said John Quinterno, a principal with South by North Strategies, Ltd., a research firm specializing in economic and social policy. “Many local labor markets now have some of the lowest rates of unemployment logged since late 2007, yet rates still remain elevated. In fact, 67 counties and 14 metro areas posted unemployment rates greater than those recorded six years ago.”
Compared to December 2007, which is when the national economy fell into recession, North Carolina now has 1.1 percent fewer payroll jobs (-45,700). In May, the state added 5,700 more jobs than it lost (+0.1 percent). Since bottoming out in February 2010, the state’s labor market has netted some 5,551 jobs per month, resulting in a cumulative gain of 283,100 positions (+7.4 percent). At that rate, all else equal, it would take until early 2015 for the state to have as many payroll jobs as it did at the end of 2007.
Between April 2014 and May 2014, local unemployment rates increased in 92 of the state’s 100 counties, decreased in 7 counties, and held constant in 1 county. Individual county rates in May ranged from 4.6 percent in Currituck County to 12.7 percent in Scotland County. Overall, 3 counties posted unemployment rates greater than or equal to 10 percent, and 63 counties posted rates between 6.6 and 9.9 percent. (Because seasonal fluctuations in the labor market are particularly pronounced in May, month-to-month changes provide limited insight into trends.)
“Non-metropolitan labor markets continue to struggle relative to metropolitan ones,” noted Quinterno. “In May, 7.4 percent of the non-metro labor force was unemployed, compared to 6.3 percent of the metro labor force. Compared to December 2007, the non-metro labor force now has 3.6 percent fewer employed persons, while the number of unemployed individuals is 28.7 percent larger. Over that time, the size of the non-metro labor force has fallen by 1.8 percent.”
Between April and May, unemployment rates rose in all 14 of the state’s metro areas. Rocky Mount had the highest unemployment rate (9.8 percent), followed by Fayetteville (7.7 percent) and Hickory-Morganton-Lenoir (7.1 percent). Asheville had the lowest unemployment rate (5.1 percent), followed by Durham-Chapel Hill (5.3 percent) and Raleigh-Cary (5.4 percent).
Compared to May 2013, unemployment rates in May 2014 were lower in all 100 counties and all 14 metro areas. Over the year, however, labor force sizes decreased in 73 counties and in 7 metros. In fact, the statewide labor force (seasonally adjusted) was 0.2 percent smaller (-8,307 individuals) in May 2014 than it was in May 2013.
Among metros, Rocky Mount’s labor force contracted at the greatest rate (-2.1 percent) over the course of the year, followed by Fayetteville (-1.7 percent) and Jacksonville and Hickory-Morganton-Lenoir (-1.5 percent). With those changes, metro areas now are home to 72.1 percent of the state’s labor force, with 50.9 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. Yet growth in these metros, although improved in recent months, remains subdued. Collectively, employment in the three metro regions has risen by 6.8 percent since December 2007, and the combined unemployment rate in May totaled 6.1 percent (compared to 5.4 percent in May 2008). Of the three broad regions, the Research Triangle had the lowest May unemployment rate (5.5 percent), followed by Charlotte (6.5 percent) and the Piedmont Triad (6.6 percent).
The local employment report for May also provided insights into the effects of the extensive changes to the state’s system of unemployment insurance implemented over the summer. Last month, the number of regular unemployment insurance initial claims filed in North Carolina totaled 23,306, down from the 48,287 initial claims filed a year earlier (-51.7 percent).
Mecklenburg County was home to greatest number of regular initial claims (2,728), followed by Wake (1,981), Guilford (1,600), Forsyth (929), and Cumberland (817) counties.
In May 2014, North Carolinians received a (nominal) total of $36.5 million in regular state-funded and federal unemployment insurance compensation, down from the (nominal) $177.5 million received in May 2013. This sharp decline (-79.4 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 in May. Between May 2013 and May 2014, the amount of federal unemployment insurance benefits paid to North Carolinians fell by 98.8 percent, dropping to a (nominal) total of $1.1 million from a (nominal) total of $89.1 million. (Note that the US Congress allowed the EUC program to expire at the start of 2014.)
“Despite recent improvements in some important labor market indicators, labor market conditions in communities across North Carolina still have not returned to their pre-recessionary states,” said Quinterno. “The May data showed little deviation from the basic pattern that has characterized the state’s labor market for the past four years: a sluggish recovery that is not generating enough job opportunities, rapidly enough for working North Carolinians.”