Mecklenburg County’s unemployment rate tumbled for a third consecutive month in April to 8.5 percent, marking the lowest rate the county has seen in more than four years.
The April figure, released Wednesday in a report by the N.C. Department of Commerce, revealed consistent drops: two-tenths of a percentage point from March’s 8.7 percent unemployment rate and three-tenths of a percentage point from the 8.8 unemployment rate of April 2012.
The new unemployment rate marks the lowest Mecklenburg has seen since January 2009, when the rate began skyrocketing because of the recession, said Larry Parker, a spokesman for the N.C. Division of Employment Security.
The April figure, which is not seasonally adjusted, is the second time Mecklenburg’s unemployment rate has fallen below 9 percent this year.
“We’re continuing to see gradual improvement in the Charlotte area,” said Mark Vitner, senior economist for Wells Fargo. “But I worry that a lot of people might be disappointed when they see that Mecklenburg’s unemployment rate is a percentage point higher than the national rate.”
The national unemployment rate dropped to 7.5 percent in April. But Vitner said Mecklenburg’s unemployment rate likely won’t lag behind the national rate for long once local companies begin anticipated hiring.
“A lot of companies have announced ways to expand in the Charlotte area, but a lot of those expansions haven’t really taken place,” Vitner said. “We haven’t seen those people being hired yet.”
North Carolina, which has a seasonally adjusted statewide unemployment rate of 8.9 percent, witnessed a decrease in 97 of its 100 counties.
Mecklenburg County, with the state’s 31st lowest rate, trailed far behind Orange County, which again held North Carolina’s lowest unemployment figure – 5.3 percent in April.
Vitner said the improving health of the economy is apparent in the job growth of the broader Charlotte-Gastonia-Rock Hill area. Since April 2012, job growth in the metropolitan area increased by 2.5 percent, adding 21,100 jobs – the largest net increase in the state.
Leisure jobs lead the way
The Charlotte-Gastonia-Rock Hill area added 5,900 jobs since March, an increase of 0.7 percent.
The leisure and hospitality industry spearheaded the year-over-year growth, adding 6,900 jobs since April 2012.
But Vitner said he anticipates the Charlotte area will see momentum in 2013 in the construction industry, as well as the financial industry – particularly with financial services giant MetLife planning to move into Ballantyne Corporate Park by mid-November.
Online job-search firm Simply Hired said its database listed nearly 52,000 job openings in April, with Carolinas HealthCare System and Harris Teeter offering the most job openings. According to Wednesday’s data, 42,575 people are listed as unemployed in Mecklenburg County.
More job seekers arrive
Vitner said that though recent influxes of people seeking jobs in the Charlotte area could cause stagnation in the unemployment rate, he is confident the employment outlook will improve throughout the remainder of 2013.
“I think we’ll see the unemployment rate for Mecklenburg somewhere around the high 7 percent range,” Vitner said.
He also said he anticipates about 25,000 jobs being created in the Charlotte area during 2013.
“We’re clearly on the road to recovery,” Vitner said. “I think the improvement in the economy is becoming more evident to more and more people.”
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