Mecklenburg County’s unemployment rate rose from May to June but was slightly down from June 2012, according to a Tuesday report from the N.C. Department of Commerce.
The drop marks the fifth month in a row that the county has seen a year-over-year drop.
However, June’s 9.4 percent figure is a jump from May’s 8.9 percent rate. It’s also the first time that county unemployment has ticked up to more than 9 percent since February, when the rate was at 9.2 percent.
Economists in the area offered mixed reviews of what the new figure, which isn’t seasonally adjusted, means for the Charlotte job market
Mark Vitner, a senior economist for Wells Fargo, said the new rate shows that the economy isn’t growing as quickly as in the past.
“An unemployment rate around 9 percent is still atrociously high,” Vitner said. “The county is still pretty up – all of North Carolina is pretty high.”
“When you look and see that (North Carolina) has the highest unemployment rate in the South, outside of Mississippi, something needs to change,” he added.
North Carolina’s unemployment rate hit 9.3 percent in June, hovering far above the national rate of 7.6 percent.
But Vitner said while Mecklenburg’s unemployment rate remains high, it’s common to see the figure tick up from May to June, when students, teachers and other job seekers flood the labor force looking for summer work.
Factoring in such changes during the summer months, he said unemployment for the Charlotte metro area actually fell in June to 8.9 percent – down from his seasonally adjusted May rate of 9.1 percent.
But Vitner said Mecklenburg County’s jobs report did have its highlights. Job growth for the Charlotte metro area was up 2.2 percent year over year, adding 18,400 jobs – the most in the state.
Scarcity of ‘meaningful’ jobs
Mekael Teshome, an economist with PNC Financial Services Group, is more optimistic about the county’s unemployment situation.
He said continued job growth – particularly in professional and business services – will drive the economy forward.
The Charlotte metro area added 4,400 business and professional service jobs during the year, according to Tuesday’s report.
Construction jobs will keep growing, too, as the housing market continues to recover, Teshome said.
But Vitner said while sectors are adding jobs, he’s concerned about the types of jobs that are being created.
“Folks can’t find meaningful work,” Vitner said, noting that many of the jobs created in the Charlotte metro area have been in the leisure and hospitality industry. That sector added 9,900 jobs during the year – the most of any sector.
“A lot of jobs that are being created are in restaurants,” Vitner said. “And they are great places to work. But most of the folks who work in restaurants are in transition – they’re not looking at the job as a permanent position.”
Vitner said he hopes more companies that can provide meaningful work will move into the area, such as MetLife, the financial services giant that plans to move into Ballantyne Corporate Park by mid-November. There, the company plans to house 1,380 employees.
No sign of a weak economy
Mecklenburg County fared better than many N.C. counties, earning the 43rd lowest rate in the state of 100 counties. But its figure remained much higher than that of Currituck County, which held North Carolina’s lowest unemployment figure – 5.8 percent in June.
Overall, most counties saw jumps in their unemployment rates: 81 of North Carolina’s counties increased in June. And 44 counties posted jobless rates of at least 10 percent, according to data from South by North Strategies, a Chapel Hill-based company that researches economic and social policy.
Teshome said that although Mecklenburg County’s figure remains high, other indicators reveal strong growth in the region.
“There are a lot of things attracting people to Mecklenburg County, to North Carolina,” Teshome said. “There’s a lower cost of living, a diverse economy, a good quality of life.”
“I don’t see the unemployment rate as a sign of a weak economy,” he said.
McCabe: 704-358-5197; Twitter: mccabe_caitlin
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