While one month does not a recession make, a surge in January unemployment across the state’s 14 major metropolitan areas and in 99 of 100 counties is raising “red flags” at the N.C. Employment Security Commission.
For example, the jobless rate in Raleigh-Cary, jumped half a percentage point from December to 4 percent, the ESC said in figures released on Wednesday. While the rate remains far below the N.C. jobless figure of 5.3 percent, ESC spokesperson Larry Parker described the increase as “really odd.” That’s the highest rate since 4 percent in June of last year.
The Raleigh-Cary increase came despite a climb of more than 8,000 jobs compared to a year earlier. However, the growth in employment was offset by a jump in 2,000 unemployed and a larger overall workforce, Parker noted.
In Durham, joblessness climbed to 4.1 percent from 3.7 percent. The rate is the highest in Durham since 4.2 percent of July 2007.
The Wake-Durham metro statistical area jobless rate climbed to 4.1 percent from 3.6 percent in January. That’s the highest since last July, according to the ESC.
Last week, the ESC reported statewide unemployment jumped to 5.3 percent from 4.6 percent in December.
Other major metro joblessness increases were reported in Rocky Mount (7 percent from 6.3 percent), Fayetteville (5.6 percent from 5.1 percent) and Burlington (5.4 percent from 4.9 percent).
Many January county rates also climbed, including a sharp increase to 8.5 percent in Edgecombe from 7.7 percent a month earlier.
In Wake, joblessness hit 3.8 percent from 3.4 percent. Durham County’s rate, meanwhile, inched upward to 4.1 percent from 3.8 percent.
The jobless rate even increased in Orange County, which has the state’s lowest, to 3.4 percent from 3 percent.
So is North Carolina’s economy truly slowing down? ESC Commissioner Harry Payne pointed out that the state’s ranks of employed in January was 15,600 higher than a year earlier. He also pointed out that joblessness normally increases in January following the Christmas shopping season and wintry weather that affects beach tourism.
However, the size of the state’s overall unemployment increase and the sizable jumps across the 14 metros are reasons for concern, Parker said.
“Up to January, everything seemed to be OK,” he explained, pointing out that increases in jobs offset layoffs. But the January spikes are “certainly a cause for concern.”
As the national economy has slowed, North Carolina hasn’t escaped a slump in housing, as housing industry statistics have shown. Parker also noted that a statewide drought has hit the landscaping sector.
The ESC will have a better understanding in two weeks when the first data for February becomes available, Parker added. “We’ll see if [January]m is just a blip on the radar screen,” he added, “or if this is turning into a trend.”
The 14 metropolitan area January unemployment rates and corresponding December figures:
• Asheville, 4.4 (3.5)
• Burlington, 5.4 (4.9)
• Charlotte, 5.3 (4.8)
• Durham, 4.1 (3.7)
• Fayetteville, 5.6 (5.1)
• Goldsboro, 4.9 (4.6)
• Greensboro-High Point, 5.4 (4.8)
• Greenville, 5.2 (4.8)
• Hickory-Lenoir-Morganton, 6.6 (5.9)
• Jacksonville, 4.8 (4.3)
• Raleigh-Cary, 4.0 (3.5)
• Rocky Mount, 7.0 (6.3)
• Wilmington, 5.1 (4.4)
• Winston-Salem, 4.9 (4.4)
For complete metro and county employment data, see the ESC Web site.