North Carolina jobless rate drops to 6.2 percent in April

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RALEIGH, N.C. — North Carolina’s jobless rate decreased for the 10th consecutive month during April, slipping 0.1 percentage point to 6.2 percent, the N.C. Commerce Department reported today.

North Carolina has experienced one of the nation’s largest unemployment rate decreases over the past year, although the April decline matched the smallest month-to-month decline over the 10 month period.

By dropping 2.2 percentage points in the past year, the N.C. rate is at its lowest level since July 2008 – three months before the full effect of the economic downturn began to be felt in the state and nationally.

What the drop means, though, remains open to debate.

For example, the state’s workforce rose by 9,911 from March to April when using the seasonally adjusted household survey. That meant 14,104 more North Carolinians were listed as employed and 4,193 fewer being considered as unemployed.

That data does not, however, distinguish how many of those workers are full time, temporary or part time.

And when people stop looking for work, they are no longer considered unemployed for the purpose of calculating the jobless rate, which tends to lower the rate.

In a year-over-year comparison, the labor force (those with a job or actively looking for one) is down by 33,005, with 69,372 more North Carolinians listed as employed and 102,377 considered as unemployed.

In the employer survey, the state had an overall gain of 16,800 private-sector jobs and a loss of 1,500 in government from February to March.

The biggest job gains were felt in professional and business services at 7,600, along with 5,600 in leisure and hospitality, 2,200 in trade, transportation and utilities, and 2,000 in manufacturing.

There was a net loss of 2,500 jobs in construction and 1,400 in education and health services.

Year over year, the state has had a net gain of 71,100 jobs and a loss of 2,600 government jobs. Top job gainers are 30,700 in professional and business services, 18,400 in trade, transportation and utilities and 6,200 in education and health services.

Michael Walden, an economics professor at N.C. State University, said the April state report was “excellent” overall.

“There were job gains in both surveys, increase in labor force and decrease in jobless rate,” Walden said. “The reduction in construction jobs in April was surprising, although still may be a weather holdover.

“We have now had two back-to-back upbeat reports for March and April. I’m still forecasting 100,000 net new payroll jobs for the year, which will put us above pre-recessionary levels.”

Gov. Pat McCrory said in a three-paragraph statement today that he “continues to see encouraging signs in North Carolina’s economy with each month that passes.”

“We have made a lot of progress over the past year, but there is still a lot of work to be done.”

McCrory and Republican legislative leaders have said contributing factors to the drop in the state jobless rate has been significantly reducing the maximum and minimum number of weekly benefits since January, as well as the maximum weekly amount since July.

McCrory and Republican legislative leaders say the tough-love UI benefits approach has made individuals more willing to take available jobs, including at lower wages and potentially below their skill level, as their benefits run out.

“Thanks to the responsible economic policies implemented by Republicans over the past three years – cutting wasteful government spending, lowering taxes and returning sanity back to our state’s regulatory climate – more North Carolinians are going to work today than ever before,” Senate president pro tem Phil Berger, R-Rockingham, said in a statement today.

However, several research groups, such as the Economic Policy Institute, say there are at least three applicants for every job opening in North Carolina.

The traditional jobless rate does not include several categories of people, including those who have stopped looking for work, including for job training or other educational efforts, 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. As of March 31, the U6 index rate for North Carolina was 13.6 percent compared with 12.3 percent nationally as of April 30.

Walden said about half of the decline in the labor force is due to younger individuals staying in school longer and older workers retiring.

“This leaves half from presumably individuals wanting a job but who have stopped looking,” Walden said.

“The likely reason is a skills mismatch – jobless workers not having the skills needed by the labor market.”

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