CHAPEL HILL, NC (September 1, 2015) — Between July 2014 and July 2015, unemployment rates fell in 90 of North Carolina’s 100 counties and in 13 of the state’s 15 metropolitan areas. Over the same period, the size of the local labor force shrank in 52 counties and in 3 metro areas.
These findings come from new estimates released today by the Labor and Economic Analysis Division of the North Carolina Department of Commerce.
“Over the past year, local labor market conditions improved across much of North Carolina,” said John Quinterno, a principal with South by North Strategies, Ltd., a research firm specializing in economic and social policy. “Yet the state’s ongoing, sluggish recovery is very much a metropolitan one that increasingly is bypassing non-metropolitan communities.”
Compared to December 2007, which is when the national economy fell into recession, North Carolina now has 2.2 percent more payroll jobs (+91,000). In July 2015, the state gained 20,600 more jobs than it lost (+0.5 percent). Since bottoming out in February 2010, the state’s labor market has netted some 6,400 payroll jobs per month, resulting in a cumulative gain of 418,000 payroll jobs (+10.9 percent).
Between June and July of 2015, local unemployment rates rose in 79 of the state’s 100 counties, fell in 6 counties, and held constant in 15 counties. Individual county rates in July ranged from 4.8 percent Buncombe County to 11.7 percent in Graham and Scotland counties. Overall, 4 counties posted unemployment rates greater than or equal to 10 percent, and 69 counties posted rates between 6 and 9.9 percent; 27 counties had unemployment rates between 4.8 and 5.9 percent.
“The combined July unemployment rate in North Carolina’s non-metropolitan counties was 5.3 percent,” noted Quinterno. “These 54 non-metropolitan counties are home to 22 percent of the state’s labor force. Compared to December 2007, non-metro areas have 4.4 percent fewer employed persons, while the number of unemployed individuals is 37.9 percent greater. Over that time, the size of the non-metro labor force has fallen by 2.8 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 non-metropolitan ones. Additionally, the state now has 15 metropolitan statistical areas, up from 14; the addition is the three-county New Bern metro area.
Between June and July, unemployment rates rose in all 15 of the state’s metro areas. Rocky Mount had the highest unemployment rate (9.1 percent), followed by Fayetteville (8.2 percent) and Greenville (7 percent). Asheville had the lowest unemployment rate (5.1 percent), followed by Raleigh-Cary (5.3 percent), Durham-Chapel Hill (5.6 percent), and Burlington and Wilmington (both 5.9 percent).
Compared to July 2014, unemployment rates in July 2015 were lower in 90 counties and in 13 metro areas. Over the year, however, labor force sizes decreased in 52 counties and in 3 metros. The statewide labor force (unadjusted), meanwhile, was 2.1 percent larger (+96,974 individuals) in July 2015 than it was in July 2014.
All of the year-over-year growth in the size of the state’s labor force occurred in the three largest metro areas, which collectively added 112,066 persons (+2.9 percent). Among individual metros, Burlington’s labor force grew at the fastest rate (+9 percent) over the course of the year, followed by Charlotte (+6.6 percent) and Raleigh (+4.4 percent).
Decreases in labor force sizes occurred in Fayetteville (-10 percent), Jacksonville (-4 percent), and Goldsboro (-0.7 percent), while the size of the labor force in Greenville was unchanged.
With those changes, metro areas now are home to 78 percent of the state’s labor force, with 56.2 percent of the labor force residing in the Triangle, Triad, and Charlotte metros.
Improvements in North Carolina’s overall labor market are being driven by developments 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 one. Collectively, employment in the 3 broad regions has risen by 10.6 percent since December 2007, and the combined unemployment rate in July totaled 5.8 percent, as compared to 4.5 percent in December 2007. These regions also were responsible for virtually all of the employment growth that occurred over the year.
Of the three broad regions, the Research Triangle had the lowest July unemployment rate (5.6 percent), followed by Charlotte (6 percent) and the Piedmont Triad (6.3 percent).
In July, the number of regular unemployment insurance initial claims filed in North Carolina totaled 18,468 down from the 23,532 initial claims filed a year earlier (-21.5 percent). Mecklenburg County was home to greatest number of regular initial claims (2,316), followed by Wake (1,739), Guilford (1,189), Forsyth (789), and Cumberland (718) counties.
In July 2015, North Carolinians received a (nominal) total of $23.1 million in regular state-funded unemployment insurance compensation, down from the (nominal) $33.7 million received in July 2014. This decline (-31.5 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 have restricted eligibility for unemployment insurance compensation.
“Many labor markets across North Carolina, particularly the largest metropolitan ones, have experienced growth over the past year,” said Quinterno. “At the same time, the overall pace of recovery remains subdued, with many non-metropolitan places continuing to lose ground.”