RALEIGH – North Carolina’s latest unemployment figures for May are impressive – the jobless rate is under 5%. But economist Dr. Mike Walden says a deeper look at the labor market reveals that the jobs market is not that positive. In fact, fewer people are working than in April, he points out.

“While the eye-catching headline will be North Carolina’s unemployment rate continued to drop in May – down to 4.8% from April’s 5% – a look at the behind-the-scenes numbers shows several concerns,” Walden, a former economics professor at N.C. State, tells WRAL TechWire.

He then rattled off a list of concerns:

  • “Non-farm job growth was anemic – only 1,400 net additional jobs were generated – and this follows a reduction in jobs in April.
  • “Granted, a large part of this reduction may be from teachers going on summer break, but the seasonal adjustments are supposed to account for this regular occurrence.
  • “The complementary household survey [additional data added in supplemental information to the monthly jobs report] registered an actual reduction in total employment (down 4550).
  • “Even more concerning to me is the drop in the labor force (people employed plus people looking for jobs), which fell by over 16,000. If this number is also counted as unemployment, the jobless rate in May would have been 5.3%.”

These numbers leave Walden wondering just how strong the job market is even after as WRAL TechWire reported (55,000 open jobs in the Triangle alone) and a growing number of tech jobs available according to the NC TECH Association.

“The conclusion I reach is growth in the job market is not robust.,” Walden says.

New report: Tech job opening across NC – up 60% in Raleigh, 30% in Durham-Chapel Hill

“Of course, several reasons have been cited – continuing fears of Covid, individuals engaged in skill-improvement so they can look for better jobs, jobless individuals focused on child care, and generous unemployment benefits.  Hopefully, these issues will be resolved in coming months.  But for now, we shouldn’t read today’s 4.8% jobless rate as suggesting we can relax and celebrate a strong job market.

“We’re not there yet.”

A positive view

The North Carolina Department of Commerce point out there have been improvements.

New report: Tech job opening across NC – up 60% in Raleigh, 30% in Durham-Chapel Hill

“North Carolina’s May 2021 unemployment rate decreased 8.7 percentage points from a year ago,” Commerce said. “The number of people employed decreased 4,550 over the month to 4,757,351 and increased 605,656 over the year. The number of people unemployed decreased 11,691 over the month to 239,523 and decreased 407,991 over the year.”

Several jobs categories improved, including:

  • Leisure & Hospitality Services, 7,600
  • Trade, Transportation & Utilities, 2,100
  • Financial Activities, 300
  • Information, 300
  • Manufacturing, 100.

Declining sectors included:

  • Government, 3,100
  • Other Services, 2,000
  • Construction, 1,600
  • Professional & Business Services, 1,200;
  • Education & Health Services, 1,100


NC Department of Commerce