RALEIGH – North Carolina’s employment picture continues to improve, new data show, with the state among the national pace setters in the lowering of unemployment claims.

But a full recovery to employment levels before the pandemic struck a year ago is many months away, according to NC State economist Dr. Michael Walden.

Utilizing federal weekly federal jobs data, financial information site WalletHub reports that as of this week North Carolina ranks third best in lowering unemployment claims over the past year. The state is the nation’s ninth largest in terms of population. Jobless claims are down more than 93% since last year, WalletHub reports.

And the unemployment rate is dropping.

NC DES chart

New state data released Friday says the North Carolina unemployment rate is down to 5.7%. That’s 0.2 percentage points lower than January but remains 2.1 percentage points higher than a year ago.

The number of people working climbed more than 4,800 over January but remains 175,050 lower than February 2020. Unemployment fell by 10,931 to under 287,000 but that’s 103,000 higher than last year.

Walden warns that a return to 2020 employment level is still a long time off.

“We are at least a year to 18 months away from the low pre-pandemic jobless rate.,” Walden told WRAL TechWire. “Not all jobs will be coming back, and individuals who held those jobs will need to be retrained for new kinds of jobs. This takes time.”

According to North Carolina’s Division of Employment Security, jobs grew in most sectors last month:

  • Professional & Business Services, 6,700
  • Trade, Transportation & Utilities, 3,900
  • Leisure & Hospitality Services, 2,400
  • Construction, 1,900
  • Manufacturing, 700
  • Education & Health Services, 500
  • Financial Activities, 300
  • Information, 100
  • Mining & Logging, 100

To keep job growth going, Walden said retraining of workers will be sessential

“We an expedite that shift by being pro-active.  We need to watch sectors that will shed jobs and be quick to identify individuals who need re-training and re-skilling.,” he explained.

“We also need strong collaboration between businesses in need of new employees and our educational and training institutions. These actions will get us quicker to the very low unemployment rates we enjoyed prior to Covid-19.”

NC DES chart