RALEIGH – Employment is improving not only in the state’s 15 metro areas but also in 98 of 100 counties, new data show. And N.C. State economist Dr. Mike Walden says data for September is “very positive” while the possibility exists for a continuing “robust” jobs environment. Thinking about a recession? Walden, who in the past has seen an economic slowdown as possibly hitting as 2023 ended, doesn’t see one until well into 2024 – if then.

The unknown: Will consumers keep spending at the brisk pace that continues to drive job creation despite the Fed’s efforts to fight inflation with higher interest rates? Nationally, the number of job openings rose in September even as the Federal Reserve decided not to increase interest rates further on Wednesday.

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“The September report [issued Wednesday] for the counties and metro areas was very positive, with both month-over-month as well as year-over-year declines in the unemployment rate for the vast majority of counties and regions,” Walden tells WRAL TechWire.

“The year-over-year comparisons are important because county level data are not adjusted for typical seasonal variations.  The conclusion is that North Carolina’s relatively strong labor market is widespread within the state.

“Often a deterioration in the labor market will begin in smaller, rural areas, but this report gives no signs that is occurring.”

According to the N.C. Department of Commerce, the number of people working statewide (not seasonally adjusted) “increased in September by 53,039 to 5,134,777, while those unemployed decreased by 18,714 to 170,391.”

Over the past year, the Commerce report says, “the number of workers employed statewide increased 142,319, while those unemployed decreased 7,967.”

Will the good news continue?

“Of course, any good news report raises the question of whether it will continue.  The key is consumer spending,” Walden says.

“As long as consumers continue spending – which they likely will do during the upcoming holiday season – the aggregate labor market will be robust.  Expectations now suggest any major slowdown in the broader economy – including the labor market – won’t happen until we are well in to 2024.”