Mecklenburg’s jobless rate continues to fall; professional services sector powers growth

Mecklenburg County’s unemployment rate continued its monthslong slide in April, dipping to a level not seen since before the worst of the recession hit the state.

The jobless rate fell to 6.2 percent, a year-over-year drop of 1.7 percentage points from the April 2013 rate of 7.9 percent.

It hasn’t been this low since June 2008, when it stood at 6.1 percent just before the effects of the recession began taking hold in North Carolina. It peaked at 11.7 percent in January 2010, and since has been generally declining.

In March, the month before the latest statistics, the county’s jobless rate stood at 6.6 percent.

Among those getting jobs: Anthony Eubanks, 53. He had struggled to find work upon returning to the U.S. in 2011 after several years in Iraq and Kuwait with a private security contracting firm.

“At first I was really upset. Very upset,” said Eubanks, an Army retiree. “But it’s nothing personal.”

With help from Charlotte Works, a workforce training and job-search counseling agency, he fine-tuned his résumé and polished his interviewing skills. He found a job just over two weeks ago as a program manager with V7 Corp., helping firms secure military contracts.

“I think it is improving,” he said of the economy. “I think people have to adjust to what’s out there. Before, there were so many jobs people could quit one job and go to another one, but it’s not like that anymore.”

For the Charlotte-Gastonia-Rock Hill region, the unemployment rate dropped from 6.4 percent in March to 6 percent in April. The national unemployment rate, by comparison, stood at 6.3 percent.

The Charlotte area’s year-over-year job numbers showed continued strong growth in the business and professional services sector, which added 8,200 jobs, a 5.8 percent gain. The sector covers management of companies, as well as fields such as accounting, legal services and computer services.

Trade, transportation and utilities added 7,200 jobs, an increase of 4.1 percent over the year. The sector that includes the closely watched construction industry added 1,300 jobs, a 3.2 percent increase.

Leisure and hospitality, a low-paying sector that had keyed job growth coming out of the recession, added 1,400 jobs, up 5.8 percent.

Wells Fargo economist Mark Vitner said the economic recovery is gaining traction, and more businesses and job-seekers are looking at Charlotte as a good place to find talent or find a job.

He pointed to hiring by companies such as MetLife and Electrolux. He also noted last week’s announcement by Babson Capital Management that it will be the anchor tenant for the new 634,000-square-foot office tower on South Tryon Street.

The company, which currently occupies 45,000 square feet in the Duke Energy Center tower, said it is experiencing strong growth and will take up 200,000 square feet in the new building.

“The quality of jobs being created in Charlotte is better than in most metro areas,” Vitner wrote in an email.

The Raleigh-Cary area recorded the largest net employment increase over the year, adding 22,200 jobs. The Charlotte-Gastonia-Rock Hill sector followed with 17,600.

Mecklenburg’s falling jobless rate mirrors the statewide trend that has seen unemployment numbers plummet in recent months. Year-over-year unemployment has fallen in all 100 N.C. counties.

Gov. Pat McCrory and other Republican leaders in Raleigh credit their legislative moves aimed at improving the economy.

Critics say the unemployment rate has fallen because more people have grown discouraged and dropped out of the labor market. Those discouraged workers don’t count in calculating the unemployment rate.

State officials say the number of workers employed statewide increased by 66,722 over the year, while the number of unemployed decreased by 91,220.

Allan Freyer, an analyst with the liberal N.C. Budget & Tax Center, said fewer people have dropped out of the labor force in recent months, but rural communities are still struggling to make up the jobs lost during the recession.

He added that the state’s job growth over the year mirrors the nation’s.

“The claim that our elected officials are making is that their policies in 2013 caused something special to happen. I don’t see the evidence,” he said. “We’re not seeing the kind of robust job growth (statewide) that we need.”