The Triad’s unemployment rate continued its sharp drop during April, falling 0.5 percentage points to 6.1 percent, the N.C. Commerce Department reported Wednesday, according to the Winston-Salem Journal.
The rate is down from 8 percent in April 2013.
The April 2014 rate is the Triad’s lowest since the 5.9 percent level in May 2008 – four months before the first major blow from the economic downturn was felt.
The unemployment rates were down in a similar range in the state’s other three major metro areas.
Economists have been mixed on whether a January rate increase, as well as the rate being unchanged in March, were signs of a bump in the road of the “Carolina comeback” that Gov. Pat McCrory and Republican legislative leaders have touted since weekly unemployment insurance benefits were cut by the General Assembly in July.
They also pointed to poor winter weather conditions affecting employer hiring and applicant job searches in February and March.
The jobless rates for the Winston-Salem metropolitan statistical area dropped 0.5 percentage points to 5.7 percent, while Forsyth County tumbled an equal amount to 5.8 percent. That’s the lowest level each has been at since 5.5 percent in May 2008.
The MSA consists of Davie, Forsyth, Stokes and Yadkin counties. Davidson County was crafted into the MSA by a federal agency in March 2013, but its employment data has yet to be factored into the region.
Yadkin has the lowest rate for the Triad and Northwest North Carolina at 4.9 percent, down from 5.5 percent. Alleghany County experienced the largest rate drop for the 14-county area, going from 8.5 percent to 6.7 percent.
What the rate drop means, though, remains open to debate.
For example, there was a decrease of 330 in the Forsyth labor force during April for a total of 176,337. The labor force is defined as those who have a job or actively looking.
There also were 761 fewer Forsyth residents listed as unemployed, to 10,307.
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. The data does not distinguish how many of those workers are full time, temporary or part time.
Commerce reported the Winston-Salem MSA had a net gain of 900 jobs from March to April, but only a 600 net gain year over year.
There was a net monthly gain of 400 jobs in the leisure and hospitality sector, along with a net gain of 200 jobs each in professional and business services, and in government. None of the 11 employer sectors posted a loss in jobs during April.
By comparison, the Greensboro-High Point MSA had a net gain of 2,100 jobs from March to April, and a net gain of 900 jobs year over year. The monthly net gain leaders: 1,700 jobs in leisure and hospitality and 700 in trade, transportation and utilities. There were losses of 400 jobs in government and 300 in professional and business services.
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.
Michael Walden, an economics professor at N.C. State University, said a “geographic disparity” remains with the rates among the state’s largest metros.
Commerce reported the Charlotte-Gastonia Rock Hill, S.C., MSA created 1,700 jobs from March to April, and 17,600 jobs year over year. The Raleigh-Cary MSA created 4,000 jobs from March to April, and 22,200 jobs year over year.
“The big metro areas are on a roll, while many of the smaller metros are struggling.” Walden said.
Mark Vitner, a senior economist with Wells Fargo Securities, said the April rates are more evidence of a “broadening recovery across North Carolina and the Triad.”
“While job growth remains relatively sluggish, there has been a pronounced decline in layoffs and cutbacks. Construction and manufacturing activity have both increased and many municipal governments appear to be cautiously hiring again.
“Gains are extremely uneven, however, and more rural parts of the state and the Triad tend to be lagging behind areas closer into Winston-Salem and Greensboro.”