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NC ends 2019 where it began with 3.7% jobless rate

NC ends 2019 where it began with 3.7% jobless rate

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The state’s jobless rate ended 2019 at the same 3.7% level where it began, the N.C. Commerce Department reported Friday.

The rate slipped 0.1 percentage point from November. It has been below the 4% threshold for two consecutive months.

The rate is down from a 15-month high of 4.2% in August.

By comparison, the U.S. jobless rate was at 3.5%, unchanged from November. The U.S. rate has been lower than the N.C. rate for 11 consecutive months.

The limited movement in the state’s jobless rate over the past 13 months is “a sign that economic growth rate has slowed in the state, as in the nation,” said Michael Walden, an economics professor at N.C. State University.

Meanwhile, Wells Fargo senior economist Mark Vitner said that although job growth outpaced labor force growth during 2019, "both have risen by roughly the same magnitude" to explain why the jobless rate finished 2019 at 3.7%.

"Charlotte and Raleigh remain the fastest growing job markets in North Carolina. Both also rank among the fastest growing job markets in the country," Vitner said.

"Other areas are also growing solidly, however, including Winston-Salem, which is seeing strong growth in health care and education, professional and business services and the hospitality sector. "Greensboro’s and High Point’s more manufacturing-intensive industrial base has made for a slower economic recovery.

"Both are now seeing their strongest and broadest based job gains of this recovery," Vitner said.

As has been the case in recent years, the two standard employment measuring sticks offer a mixed view of the state economy during November.

In the household survey, the state had a net gain of 795 in the labor force from November to December, which typically indicates more individuals entering or re-entering the workforce to pursue a job. Labor force typically is defined by economists as counting those employed plus those looking for employment.

There was an increase of 7,227 individuals considered employed, as well as an additional 6,432 listed as unemployed. Those who drop out of the labor force play a role in lowering the jobless rate.

Since December 2018, the labor force has increased by 142,604, reflecting 137,509 gaining employment over the year and 5,095 considered as unemployed.

Meanwhile, according to the employers’ survey, there was a net gain of just 300 jobs between November and December, reflecting an additional 1,200 private-sector and a loss of 900 government jobs.

Commerce reported major swings in employment in four categories, foremost a net gain of 5,600 jobs in the lower-wage leisure and hospitality sector and a loss of 6,400 jobs in the professional and business services sector.

There also were a net gain of 1,200 jobs in the financial services sector and a loss of 1,100 jobs in the trade, transportation and utilities, typically lower-wage retail jobs.

For the past 12 months, there has been a net gain of 90,500 private-sector jobs and 3,400 government jobs.

Leading the way were leisure and hospitality at 30,200, trade, transportation and utilities at 18,100, education and health services at 13,800, information technology at 9,900, and professional and business services at 9,100. There was a loss of 1,900 manufacturing jobs.

Walden said the labor force increase over the past 12 months is a reflection of North Carolina being a leading state in net in-migration.

“With the state’s strong job market motivating people who had stopped looking for work to now resume looking, it is certainly possible for strong labor force growth to statistically push the unemployment rate higher,” Walden said.

“Indeed, in the first 10 months of 2019, North Carolina’s labor force expanded four times faster than the nation’s.”

The left-leaning N.C. Budget & Tax Center said in a statement that the state’s economy “is lagging and is in danger of slipping backward in the coming months,” particularly when excluding the economic engines of Charlotte and the Triangle.

“Worrying unemployment rate trends and slowing employment growth is evidence that 2019 is shaping up to be another year of lost opportunity and evasive prosperity, book-ending a decade of an incomplete recovery,” said William Munn, the center’s policy analyst.

The state jobless rate has remained below the 5% threshold since January 2017.

That’s the level most economists consider as representing full employment — the economic point at which everyone who wants a job has one, employers have the skilled workers they need, and there is limited inflationary pressure on wages.

Yet most economists say the job market remains a challenge for people without the technical and other specialized skills needed in advanced manufacturing jobs. Individuals without jobs who are not looking for work are not considered unemployed.

The labor force data does not distinguish how many workers are full time, temporary or part time, or how many jobs people are working.

The federal labor-statistics bureau’s U6 index includes those categories. The U6 index rate for North Carolina was 7.3%, compared with 6.7% nationally, both as of Dec. 31.




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