Business

Economic optimism grows as US adds jobs

Posted March 9, 2012 6:47 p.m. EST
Updated March 9, 2012 7:02 p.m. EST

Economy

— Although the national unemployment rate hasn't moved much, the U.S. economy has added almost 750,000 jobs in the last three months, prompting a growing sense of optimism about the health of the economy.

Employers added 227,000 jobs in February to complete three of the best months of hiring since the recession ended, the Labor Department reported Friday. The unemployment rate remained at 8.3 percent – the lowest level in three years – but officials said that shows more people are streaming back into the workforce to look for jobs.

Recent surveys by the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants, Duke University and CFO Magazine all found business leaders think the economy is trending up, and more businesses plan to hire this year.

"In our survey of business leaders across the country, we found optimists now outnumber pessimists by almost a two-to-one margin, which is a striking change from six months ago. So, certainly there is more hope out there," AICPA spokesman Jonathan Cox said.

An Elon University Poll released Friday shows that 34 percent of North Carolina residents expect the national economy to improve this year. The positive sentiment has more than doubled since the same question was asked in a poll last fall. Likewise, the number of respondents who expect the state economy to improve this year doubled, from 11 to 26 percent.

Cox says confidence is rising, but it's still fragile. Business leaders are worried that high gas prices could hurt retail sales, Cox said, and they're also concerned about health care costs.

"We're certainly not out of the woods yet, and there are still some issues to watch, but it seems as if things are headed in the right direction for now," he said.

High school students at a Wake County career expo said they hope that's the case.

"I was looking for a job myself, and it really has been hard trying to find one," said Najee Fevecque, a senior at Panther Creek High School.

Fevecque was among 600 high school students who attended at program at Wake Technical Community College on Friday to prepare them for a career. The students networked with recruiters, learned how to dress for work and even present their resumes to local executives in mock interviews.

Amy Schroeder, career development coordinator at Athens Drive High School, said one in four teens looking for a job can't find one. So, they need all the help they can get.

"Businesses are still making connections, saying, 'Hey, we've got some part-time jobs,' but it certainly has been difficult," Schroeder said.

The national jobless report also showed that only 14.9 percent of the U.S. labor force is underemployed – people are working fewer hours than they want or are at jobs for which they're overqualified – which is the lowest that figure has been in three years.