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Mecklenburg’s jobless rate dips to 7.1 percent

Mecklenburg’s jobless rate dropped in November to 7.1 percent, the lowest rate since the recession, according to new state figures out Tuesday.

The latest figure reflects a trend over the past year or so in which the rate has been gradually coming down. It represents a substantial drop from November 2012, when the jobless rate stood at 9 percent. The newest figure is also down from October, when it was 7.7 percent.

The 7.1 percent rate is the lowest the county’s jobless rate has been since October 2008, when it was 6.8 percent and rising as the recession solidified its hold on the economy.

For the combined Charlotte-Gastonia-Rock Hill metropolitan area, the rate for November was even lower, at 6.9 percent. That was down from the November 2012 rate of 9 percent, and also a drop from this October’s rate of 7.5 percent.

The metropolitan area’s jobless rate hasn’t been this low since September 2008, when it stood at 6.7 percent.

Wells Fargo economist Mark Vitner said in a Dec. 24 memo that the state’s unemployment rate has fallen 2 percentage points over the past year, the largest decline in the country.

He wrote that about three-fourths of that decline coincides with North Carolina’s overhaul of its unemployment system. It resulted in about 70,000 residents losing their federal long-term unemployment benefits at the end of June.

The state legislature’s changes, passed last year, voided the state’s federal long-term unemployment benefits intended for those unemployed longer than 26 weeks. Federal law cut off aid to states that didn’t maintain their current benefit system.

Benefits for 1.3 million other Americans ended last month, but legislation restoring them passed a key procedural hurdle in the U.S. Senate Tuesday.

N.C. Sen. Kay Hagan’s office said in a statement that the broader bill to extend the benefits also would reinstate North Carolina residents’ eligibility.

Vitner said that in North Carolina, the benefit cut appears to have prompted some jobless people to give up searching for work, while others have taken lower-paying or part-time posts in the retail and hospitality industries.

The dynamic of people taking less-desirable jobs is having a stronger effect on the unemployment rate than people dropping out of the labor force, he wrote in his memo. Civilian employment in the state has risen by 39,400 over roughly the past three months, he wrote. By contrast, employment declined by 45,100 during the first eight months of the year.

In an interview with the Observer Tuesday, Vitner said that the economy is indeed recovering, but the improvement in unemployment numbers is exaggerating the extent of the improvement in people’s lives.

“We still have a lot of work to do before we get back to where we were before the recession,” he said.

Rates for surrounding counties are also falling. Cabarrus registered a 6.2 percent jobless rate, compared with 8.4 percent in November 2012.

Union’s rate came in at 5.8 percent, down from 7.9 percent in November 2012. Cleveland’s 7.6 percent rate represented a big drop from the 10.1 percent rate it logged a year earlier.

Iredell’s 6.9 percent rate was down from 9.3 percent a year earlier, and Gaston’s 7.6 percent rate was down from 10.2 percent.

Frazier: 704-358-5145; efrazier@charlotteobserver.com
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