RALEIGH – North Carolina’s unemployment rate has decreased again, and is now 3.5% statewide, according to the latest data from the North Carolina Department of Commerce.  But the most recent WRAL TechWire Jobs Report showed that there are some signs of a labor market cooldown.

And while labor market conditions have generally improved across the state, John Quinterno, a professor at Duke University points out, “the labor market remains intertwined with the course of the pandemic.”

The unemployment rate dropped by 0.2 in March from the revised unemployment rate of 3.7% in February.  A year ago, the unemployment rate in North Carolina was 5.2%. In fact, the jobless rate has declined for nine consecutive months.

Jobless claims climb but remain at historically low levels

Between February 2021 and February 2022, the unemployment rate fell in every North Carolina county, according to a report from the North Carolina Department of Commerce released earlier this month.

And much of the gains throughout the past year occurred right here in the Triangle, Quinterno noted.  “Taken together, the Raleigh and Durham-Chapel Hill metros have netted some 48,0000 payroll jobs,” he said.  “This accounts for about 27% of all the job growth experienced in the state over the course of the year.

Source: N.C. Department of Commerce

Here’s how the new state report breaks down jobs growth:

“Major industries experiencing increases were Construction, 4,200; Education & Health Services, 4,000; Manufacturing, 3,200; Government, 2,200; Professional & Business Services, 2,000; Leisure & Hospitality Services, 1,100; Other Services, 1,100; Information, 1,000; and Financial Activities, 700.

“Major industries experiencing decreases were Trade, Transportation & Utilities, 1,300; and Mining & Logging, 100.”

Triangle area counties still see lowest unemployment rates in North Carolina

Future of labor market tied to pandemic

But there are potential labor market disruptions that may occur, Quinterno noted – COVID and concerns about letting down guards against a new surge.

“Another [pandemic] surge doubtlessly will weigh on economic activity as people adjust their behaviors accordingly,” said Quinterno.

While the state has experienced steady job growth since the worst of the pandemic in mid-2020, netting some 600,000 payroll jobs, there are still concerns.

There’s uncertainty about the future of the pandemic, for one, a major factor in the state’s economy.

“What is especially concerning going forward is the lack of any interest by federal and state policymakers in even tracking the pandemic or taking meaningful steps to mitigate community spread in a misguided attempt to return to a pre-pandemic state,” said Quinterno.  “We can’t just wish COVID away.”

Any serious resurgence will likely be managed less than prior surges, possibly with less or no economic support to individuals or small businesses, said Quinterno.  “That is not an appealing option when added to all the other problems facing individuals and firms, such as rising prices, especially for basics like food, housing, and energy;  supply chain disruptions; and shortages of essential goods.”

North Carolina’s economy ‘little changed’ as warning signs of recession emerge