The Triad’s unemployment rate slipped to a 15-month low of 3.3% during December, the N.C. Commerce Department reported Wednesday.
The rate was 3.4% in November. The rate had been on a modest up-and-down cycle for 2019, reaching as high as 4.5% in July.
The five-county Winston-Salem and the three-county Greensboro-High Point metropolitan statistical areas experienced different employment patterns from November to December.
For example, the Winston-Salem MSA had no net gain in private-sector and government jobs, while the Greensboro-High Point MSA had an overall 1,700 loss.
The employment category playing the biggest role in the Triad from November to December was professional and business service, which had a loss of 1,100 jobs in the Winston-Salem MSA and 1,500 in the Greensboro-High Point MSA.
Those job declines were offset in part in the Winston-Salem MSA by a net gain of 600 jobs in the leisure and hospitality sector, along with 200 in trade, transportation and utilities.
In the Greensboro-High Point MSA, there was a net gain of 800 jobs in trade, transportation and utilities, as well as loss of 600 in leisure and hospitality and 400 in government.
The jobless rate in the Winston-Salem MSA in December was 3.2%, unchanged from November and down from 3.5% a year ago.
By comparison, the Greensboro-High Point MSA’s jobless rate was 3.5% in December, down from 3.6% in November and 3.9% a year ago.
Many economists say a year-over-year assessment of the job market is a more accurate representation than monthly comparisons.
Since December 2018, the Winston-Salem area has had a net gain of 5,000 jobs, highlighted by 2,000 in leisure and hospitality, 1,400 in education and health services, 700 in manufacturing and 600 in construction.
The 5,200 year-over-year increase in employment was sixth highest among the 14 regions measured by Commerce.
By comparison, the Greensboro-High Point area has had a net gain of 6,900 jobs, highlighted by 3,500 in trade, transportation and utilities, 1,500 in education and health services, 1,100 in leisure and hospitality and 700 in manufacturing. The year-over-year job increase is third highest.
However, some economists and analysts were not overly encouraged with the jobless-rate picture. They stress that North Carolina’s employment recovery has occurred mostly in five urban counties, particularly in Charlotte and the Triangle, which account for at least 45% of the net gain of jobs since February 2013.
Over the past year, the Charlotte-Gastonia-Concord MSA had a net gain of 33,600, the Raleigh-Cary MSA had a net gain of 23,200 jobs and the Durham-Chapel Hill MSA had a gain of 2,800.
“National and state declines in headline unemployment do not signal a healthy and complete recovery. The state’s growth is far too concentrated in urban North Carolina,” said William Munn, a policy analyst with the left-leaning N.C. Budget & Tax Center.
“We need to take a hard look at how it is we address the underlying drivers that stymie growth outside the urban corridors throughout this state,” Munn said.
Mark Vitner, senior economist with Wells Fargo Securities, said that while Charlotte and Raleigh are the fastest growing job markets in North Carolina, “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 and High Point’s more manufacturing-intensive industrial base has made for a slower economic recovery, but both are now seeing their strongest and broadest based job gains of this recovery.”
The Triad 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.