Mecklenburg jobless rate falls to 6.5 percent in March

Mecklenburg County’s unemployment rate dipped again in March, offering further evidence the area economy is strengthening.

The Mecklenburg jobless rate stood at 6.5 percent in March, figures released Tuesday by the N.C. Department of Commerce show. That’s down from 6.6 percent the previous month, and significantly down from the 8.2 percent rate in March 2013.

The rate for the broader Charlotte-Gastonia-Rock Hill, S.C., area stood at 6.4 percent, down from 6.5 percent the previous month and 8.3 percent a year earlier.

The Raleigh-Cary area posted a 5.2 percent rate, while Durham-Chapel Hill came in at 5.1 percent. The statewide unemployment rate for March was 6.6 percent.

In the Charlotte region, professional and business services continued to be the leading job-adding employment sector, rising by 9,400 positions year over year, a 6.7 percent increase. Trade, transportation and utilities added 6,700 positions, a gain of 3.8 percent.

Mining, logging and construction added 2,900 jobs, a 7.2 percent increase. Leisure and hospitality, once the area’s leading job-adding category, saw no change in its year-over-year employment numbers.

Gov. Pat McCrory has been touting the state’s declining unemployment rate as evidence his policies are helping create jobs. But critics have said part of the reason for the decline has been unemployed people giving up and dropping out of the labor pool. Only those working or looking for work are counted in figuring unemployment rates.

Allan Freyer, an analyst with the progressive N.C. Justice Center’s budget and tax policy group, said the Charlotte region’s unemployment rate is declining even as more people reenter the workforce.

He said U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics figures show the Charlotte region’s labor force grew by almost 1,100 people over the year and the number of people employed went up by almost 1,900.

“That’s been rare in the state,” he said.