The number of people looking for jobs in North Carolina last month increased by 44,522 – the biggest monthly gain in more than a quarter century – pushing unemployment to a five-year high.
The jobless rate jumped to 6.6percent from 5.9percent in June, according to figures released Friday by the N.C. Employment Security Commission. Only two other states – South Carolina and Mississippi – logged larger gains. South Carolina's rate jumped to 7percent from 6.1percent.
North Carolina's jobless rate is the highest it has been since August 2003 and is almost a full percentage point above the national average.
U.S. unemployment in July was 5.7percent.
“I think it's safe to say the North Carolina economy, which has been doing pretty well for the past two or three years, has really slowed,” said Harry Davis, a professor at Appalachian State University and economist for the N.C. Bankers Association. “We were the envy of other states up to three or four months ago.”
There's no question that North Carolina is suffering amid a broader downturn that is roiling the global economy. Goodyear, for instance, today will shut down a plant that employs 3,000 people in Fayetteville.
Demand for its tires has fallen, and it plans to furlough workers for two weeks to keep inventory in check.
Such actions certainly take a toll on the labor market, but the state's successes could have as much to do with rising unemployment.
North Carolina has continued to attract employers during the economic downturn. Since early July, a furniture manufacturer has pledged 205 jobs for Graham County, a snack maker has promised 263 jobs for Martin County and an Indian technology giant has committed to 513 jobs in Wake County.
Word of such expansions appeals to people struggling in other places to find work. They come here in search of opportunity.
Nathan Davoren and his wife arrived in Raleigh from New York about a week ago. He works in construction and said that between the slowing economy and influx of immigrants to the industry he has been unable to find suitable work.
In recent years, he's driven a cab in New York City and delivered furniture in Virginia. He worked on base construction in Jacksonville earlier this decade and figured he would have a better shot at landing employment in this state.
“I love North Carolina,” he said Friday afternoon as he waited for his wife outside the Employment Security Commission's Raleigh office.
Many other people, apparently, share his view.
The increase in people looking for work was driven, in part, by the state's growing population. But another factor also contributed.
“With the price of energy, the price of fuel, food, shelter and clothing going up, a lot of people are having to go back to work,” said Anna White, regional vice president in Charlotte for the staffing firm Adecco.
Specifically, she's seeing the phenomenon in households where one adult had been staying at home.
“The environment that we're working and living in every day is changing,” White added.