Local jobless rate rises in May

Mecklenburg County's unemployment rate spiked in May after two months of slight declines, according to data released Friday.

In addition, the numbers for the summer months could be worse, experts say, as teens look for work and transplants seek a stronger job market in Charlotte.

Mecklenburg's jobless rate rose to 5.6 percent last month from 5 percent in April, and was up more than a percentage point from a year ago, according to the N.C. Employment Security Commission.

The Charlotte metropolitan area's rate was even higher at 5.8 percent. Unemployment also was up in Cabarrus, Catawba, Gaston, Iredell, Lincoln and Union counties and York County, S.C.

Only eight of North Carolina's 100 counties saw their jobless rates drop or remain the same last month.

Part of the reason for the spike is that teenagers have entered the workforce for the summer, Wachovia senior economist Mark Vitner said.

“But there's no escaping the fact that the economy is slowing,” he said. “There's no question that the unemployment rate is headed higher.”

Charlotte-area unemployment has been rising with the national rate – 5.5 percent last month – for more than a year, falling slightly in March and April before climbing upward again last month.

Statewide, the jobless rate jumped to 5.8 percent last month from 5.4 percent in April, the highest in four years, according to statistics released last week.

The Charlotte area's biggest problem is that job growth has slowed but the workforce continues to grow as people move to town, prompted by past growth and the continued promise of job opportunities and a stronger economy than elsewhere, Vitner said.

The area continues to add jobs, with strong gains in the leisure and hospitality and professional and business services sectors offsetting losses in the manufacturing and banking industries, the state data show. And Charlotte's economy is still stronger than other cities nationwide, Vitner said.

Still, “gas prices have hit $4 in Charlotte, just like everywhere else,” he said, and employers are feeling the crunch.