North Carolina’s jobless rate dipped to 6.2 percent in April, the lowest it’s been in nearly six years and the 24th consecutive month that the state’s unemployment has fallen or held steady.
The jobless rate fell from 6.3 percent in March and from 8.4 percent a year ago, according to data released Friday by the Labor and Economic Analysis Division of the N.C. Department of Commerce.
It’s also the third consecutive month that North Carolina’s unemployment rate is lower than the national average, which was 6.3 percent in April. Traditionally North Carolina’s jobless rate is worse than the national average during economic downturns and better the national average during periods of economic growth.
The state gained 15,300 jobs in April and has gained 16,900 jobs for the year. That means most of the job gains in 2014 came in April as the state bled jobs during the beginning of the year.
The largest job gains in April were in leisure and hospitality, and professional and business services. Those industries accounted for more than 13,000 jobs. Losses happened in construction, education, health services and the government sector.
In all, North Carolina added 71,100 jobs in the past year, representing a job growth rate of less than 1.8 percent. “We need to be growing a lot faster,” said Allan Freyer, Public Policy Analyst at the N.C. Budget and Tax Center.
A strong economic growth rate would have to be at least 2.5 percent, said N.C. State University economist Michael Walden. At that level of growth, the job market could begin absorbing college graduates and other job seekers as well people who are underemployed and those who have dropped out of the labor force.
Freyer also noted that the annual job growth figure can be misleading because it doesn’t account for the quality of jobs added. More than half the jobs added in the past year were administrative, retail, trade, food services and other low-skill positions, he said.
“We’re seeing job growth in industries that overwhelmingly pay very low wages,” Freyer said.
In another reversal from negative trends, the state’s labor force increased in April for the second month in a row. In past months, the jobless rate fell as the labor force shriveled, suggesting that the unemployment rate was not reflecting the true scale of joblessness because discouraged residents had given up looking for work and didn’t show up in the state’s labor force.
In April, however, North Carolina’s labor force added 9,911 people. But even as the labor force reductions are getting smaller, the labor force still contained 33,005 fewer residents in April than it did a year ago, indicating that not all eligible workers are looking for jobs.