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NC jobless rate falls below US average

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North Carolina’s jobless rate dropped to 6.4 percent in February, the lowest since mid-2008. It’s also the first time in eight years the state has posted a lower unemployment rate than the national average, which was 6.7 percent last month.

February’s drop continues a trend in which the state’s unemployment picture is making dramatic gains while other economic measures lag.

North Carolina’s unemployment rate dropped from 6.7 percent in January and from 8.6 percent in February 2013.

But on the flip side, the state had a net loss of 11,300 jobs in February, and the number of people looking for work shrank by 7,349 during the month. Several economists attributed North Carolina’s sluggish economic performance so far this year to erratic winter weather that shut down businesses, delayed shipments and reduced sales.

“January and February have not been stellar months,” said N.C. State University economist Michael Walden.

The jobless data were issued Friday by the N.C. Department of Commerce’s Labor and Economic Analysis Division.

Industries that gained jobs in February were trade, transportation, utilities, manufacturing and the financial sector. North Carolina industries that lost jobs last month included education, health services, construction, government, and professional and business services.

Gov. Pat McCrory said the February data demonstrate “continued progress” in the state’s economy. His administration has consistently emphasized a goal of economic revival through job growth and through the creation of better-paying jobs.

“I’m pleased to see that more and more people are getting back to work, but the job is far from finished,” McCrory said in a statement.

The N.C. Justice Center, a liberal policy group in Raleigh, said Friday that economic data show that more people are dropping out of the job market than are being hired.

Overall, North Carolina lost jobs in January and February, erasing 23,300 positions from the economy so far this year. In the past 12 months, the labor force shrank by 63,667 job seekers.

During the same period, from February 2013 to February 2014, the state gained 46,400 jobs, a total that takes into account the 23,300 lost in January and February.

Those negative measures point to deeper problems in the state’s economy and suggest many of the unemployed aren’t being counted, said East Carolina University economist James Kleckley.

“The major reason the unemployment rate has dropped is that people are leaving the labor force,” Kleckley said. “They’ve given up looking.”

Despite the mixed signals, Wells Fargo economist Mark Vitner said North Carolina’s economic health is improving. Vitner said the conflicting data reflects strong economic growth in urban areas and continued economic woes in rural regions.

Vitner said a Wells Fargo analysis shows that 56 percent of the state’s economic growth since the recession has been concentrated in the Charlotte and Triangle areas even though those two metro regions account for just 35  percent of the state’s workforce.

“The data still shows an improving picture in North Carolina,” Vitner said. “The unemployment rate has been coming down rapidly, and it’s the single best statistic that we have.”

Vitner said that gaining 60,000 to 70,000 jobs in a 12-month period would signify a strong recovery. In 2013, North Carolina gained 77,300 jobs.

Murawski: 919-829-8932
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