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NC unemployment rate falls to 7.4 percent in November

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The North Carolina unemployment rate continued its year-long slide again in November, dropping 0.6 percentage points to 7.4 percent, the N.C. Employment Security Commission reported Friday.

The rate has fallen from 9.4 percent in November 2012.

The last time the rate was this low was 7.3 percent in October 2008 – two months before the full effect of the economic downtown began to be felt in North Carolina and the nation.

The state rate also moved to its closest level to the national rate (7 percent in November) since June 2008, when the N.C. rate was 6 percent and the U.S. rate was 5.6 percent.

At least for November, the two surveys that Commerce uses to gauge the statewide job market seemed to point to the same reasoning for the jobless rate decline.

For the spring through early fall, the monthly employer survey of 11 job sectors reported net gains in private-sector jobs, while the monthly household employment survey revealed more people dropping out of the job market, thus not counted as unemployed.

Both surveys are seasonally adjusted, with more economists emphasizing the employer data.

But in November, the monthly employer survey showed a 5,000 decline in private-sector jobs and a 1,500 decline on government jobs.

The monthly household employment survey had an overall decline of 8,101 in the state labor force from October to November: 28,138 fewer North Carolinians considered as unemployed and 20,037 more listed as employed.

That survey doesn’t distinguish how many of the newly employed took full- or part-time jobs, or determine whether they are underemployed for their skill set.

Michael Walden, an economics professor at N.C. State University, said the decline in private-sector jobs was “a step back, but it still doesn’t change my cautious optimism for the North Carolina economy in 2014.”

Walden said the state’s job growth “has come on strong” this year. Commerce data shows that since November 2012, the state has had a net gain of 59,700 private-sector jobs and a loss of 2,900 government jobs.

John Hood, president of the right-leaning John Locke Foundation, said he believes North Carolina’s economy is continuing to heal along with the national economy.

“If you choose your starting point carefully and exclude the past two months of data, you can generate a storyline quite different from what is going on in the real economy,” Hood said.

“The longer-term trend is still favorable to North Carolina: Since mid-2011, the state has added about 171,000 net new jobs, a rate of increase that is running about 10 percent higher than the national average.”

Officials with the left-leaning N.C. Budget & Tax Center say the November jobless rate drop is more proof that it is declining primarily because of North Carolinians exiting the job market.

“Any marginal job growth in the state is largely due to steady growth in the national economy, as opposed to decisions made by state policymakers,” the center said in a report released Thursday.

“If the workforce continues to shrink, it is unlikely that the state will be able to completely replace the jobs lost during the Great Recession or meet the needs of a growing population,” said Allan Freyer, the center’s policy analyst and author of the report.

Looking at the 11 job sectors listed by Commerce, the state had a net gain of 2,600 trade, transportation and utilities jobs – likely seasonal retail hiring – 2,000 in professional and business services, and 1,600 in construction.

It also had a loss of 4,100 jobs in education and health services, 3,300 in manufacturing and 2,500 in financial activities.

Walden and Mark Vitner, a senior economist at Wells Fargo Securities, have said their main employment concern is that job growth has been mostly at the two ends of the pay spectrum – high-paying jobs and low-paying jobs.

The traditional jobless rate does not include several categories of people, including those who have stopped looking for work, are retired, are underemployed for their work skills, are able to work full time but can only get part-time work, or are receiving a severance package after the elimination of their job.

A rate compiled by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the U6 index, includes those categories. The latest update for North Carolina found 14.9 percent of adults without jobs as of Sept. 30 – the latest available – compared with 13.2 percent nation ally on Nov. 30.