NC jobless rate remains at 5.6 percent in January

By John Murawski [email protected]

North Carolina’s jobless rate remained flat in January at 5.6 percent even as the state continued to add jobs at a faster rate than the nation.

The state’s jobless rate has been unchanged since October and is down only slightly from 5.7 percent a year ago. By comparison, the jobless rate for the nation was 4.9 percent in January, down from 5.7 percent a year ago.

The seasonally adjusted employment data was released Monday by the N.C. Department of Commerce.

The agency also released revisions for past years job gains, showing that the state produced 18,000 fewer jobs between 2011 and 2015 than previously estimated. For example, rather than generating 110,200 jobs in 2014, North Carolina produced 96,000 jobs that year.

The revised data shows that since the recession hit in 2008, North Carolina has not added 100,000 jobs in any single calendar year, a rough measure of robust economic growth. Last year, the state added 84,200 jobs, a downward revision from the previous estimate of 86,800.

“It’s still growing, but not growing as quickly as we would like,” said East Carolina University economist James Kleckley.

Over the past 12-month period ending in January, however, North Carolina added 104,300 nonfarm jobs, at an annual growth rate of 2.5 percent. The United States added jobs at a rate of 1.9 percent during the same period.

Much of that growth was caused by 23,200 jobs added in January, and economists quickly downplayed the gain as a statistical vagary. N.C. State University economist Michael Walden said that extrapolating from January’s job gains would result in more than 200,000 jobs added in 2016, which is not likely to happen.

Still, Walden said North Carolina’s job market is growing steadily. Walden and other economists point to the increase of the labor pool, which is the total number of people seeking work, as an indicator that people are moving to the state in search of good jobs.

Indeed, one reason North Carolina’s jobless rate has barely budged in months is because the state is attracting job seekers faster than the economy can absorb them. The state’s labor pool added 16,842 job seekers in January and 86,051 in 2015.

At the same time, the number of unemployed people declined by 1,415 in January and fell by 1,427 in 2015.

“We’re still adding jobs at a faster pace than the rest of country,” noted Wells Fargo economist Mark Vitner. “I don’t think North Carolina’s economy is losing momentum.”

In January, the state added jobs in government, leisure and hospitality, education and health care, and construction. The only area to lose jobs was trade, transportation and utilities. For the full year, every job category gained, except mining and logging, which added no new jobs.

The 23,200 jobs added in January is so unusual that economists said it will either be revised next year or will balance out with job losses in subsequent months. For example, the last big single-month jobs gain in North Carolina was 24,100 jobs added in March 2014, Kleckley said. The previous two months, however, the state lost 12,600 jobs, he noted.

“We haven’t changed all that much from the path we’ve been on,” said John Quinterno, a principal at South by North Strategies, a research firm in Chapel Hill. “We’re netting jobs each month, more or less to keep pace with the growth of the labor force and to put a dent in the jobless rate.”

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