Slight increase in N.C. jobless rate for December

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(WINSTON-SALEM JOURNAL) — North Carolina took a slight step back during December from the frustratingly slow improvement in its job market, with the jobless rate rising 0.1 percentage point to 9.2 percent, the N.C. Division of Employment Security re-ported Friday.

It is the first time in five months that the rate increased.

However, it is down from 10.4 percent in December 2011.

The rate reflects a new method for the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, which provides data to the states. The bureau‘s seasonally adjusted estimates now includes a long-run trend “smoothing” procedure.

“This result in estimates that are less volatile,” said Larry Parker, acting public information officer for the state agency.

Before November, the last time the state’s rate was lower was in April 2009 at 8.9 percent – just a few months after North Carolina and the country began to feel the brunt of the recession.

The state’s labor force increased by 17,395 during December to 4.75 million North Carolinians. The agency listed 10,398 more people as employed, but there also was a 6,997 increase in those considered as unemployed to 438,864.

Economists said the higher number of unemployed people in December was not surprising given the expected increase in people applying for holiday work.

The agency reported there was a 7,900 gain in nonfarm jobs during December, including 5,900 in education and health services and 5,000 by professional and business services.

Those gains were offset by the loss of 2,000 jobs in financial activities, 1,300 in leisure and hospitality services and 400 in government.

Michael Walden, an economics professor at N.C. State University, consider the December report to be “good” overall because of the monthly job gains.

“The unemployment rate ticked up because more people entered the labor force — which is considered a good sign,” Walden said. The state agency does not count people as unemployed if they have stopped looking for work.

For the full year, the state gained 72,400 nonfarm jobs.

Leading job growth was 23,300 in professional and business services, 16,400 in education and health services, 15,100 in the trade, transportation and utilities sectors and 12,300 in leisure and hospitality services. The only negative category was a loss of 1,400 jobs in “other services.”

Walden said the state, at 1.8 percentage points, performed better in year-over-year employment gains that the national average of 1.4 percentage points.

“North Carolina, like the nation, still has unemployment that is much too high,” Walden said. “But we are making progress, and are actually moving ahead slightly faster than the nation.”

Economists said the uncertainty about the economy and the outcome of the presidential election has kept many businesses, including small-business owners, on the fence about hiring.

Those economists said they will pay close attention to how quickly businesses respond to the Republican control of state government and the status quo in federal government.

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 skills, are able to work full time but can get only part-time work, or are receiving severance packages after the elimination of a job. It also includes those who have exhausted their state and federal unemployment benefits.

A rate compiled by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the U6 index, includes those people. The latest update for North Carolina found 17 percent of adults without jobs as of Sept. 30, compared with 14.4 percent nationally on Dec. 31.

Source: Winston-Salem Journal

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