N.C. unemployment jumps to 9.7% – highest rate since 1983

The ranks of jobless swell to more than 400,000 – a record high – and an N.C. State economist warns that "scary jobless numbers" are coming. Still, the Employment Security Commission continues to post new openings.

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RALEIGH, N.C. — North Carolina’s unemployment rate soared to 9.7 percent in January, the highest rate since 1983, the state Employment Security Commission said Wednesday.

In March 1983, the unemployment rate reached 10 percent.

“The January jump in unemployment was huge, signaling that the recession is well entrenched in North Carolina,” North Carolina State University economist Michael Walden said of the latest figures.

North Carolina, which a few years ago had one of the lowest unemployment rates in the nation, now has the sixth-highest rate. Michigan tops the list at 11.6 percent, and South Carolina, Rhode Island and California also have rates higher than 10 percent. Oregon is slightly below 10 percent.

Walden warned that more grim news is ahead.

“With the employment market not expected to rebound until mid 2010, we'll be looking at some scary jobless numbers in the months ahead,” he said. “I don't see the rate peaking until next year, probably at near 14 percent for the entire state.”

The ranks of the jobless jumped from 8.1 percent in December. ESC had revised the December rate downward from 8.7 percent after a further review of data in recent weeks.

Nearly 74,000 people joined the jobless ranks in January, pushing the total to 443,069 – a record high – as employers across the state cut jobs in the nationwide recession.

The number of North Carolinians with jobs fell to 4,109,016. That’s down 180,177 from January 2008, when the jobless rate stood at 5 percent.

“While many job sectors have faced cutbacks and layoffs, manufacturing and construction continue to experience the most loss,” ESC Chairman Moses Carey Jr. said in a statement.

According to the ESC, 11,500 manufacturing jobs and 10,300 construction jobs were lost in January.

Despite the financial woes on Wall Street and the merger of Wachovia with Wells Fargo, the state’s financial activities sector added 1,200 jobs.

Although the jobless numbers continue to rise, the ESC posts new openings every week. At least 10 jobs were posted Wednesday, and Leon Perry, a manager in the Raleigh ESC office, said retail and landscaping jobs are starting to pick up.

Antonio Johnson was following up on a lead at the ESC office. He worked with a job counselor to enter his work history into the agency's job database.

"We take that experience and assign a code that we put into the system that has the jobs for those different categories," counselor Larry Campbell said.

When a food service job opens up, for example, the computer automatically matches it with job seekers like Johnson. The ESC will then contact the job applicants with information on how to apply, Campbell said.

The Raleigh ESC office has matched 2,300 people with jobs in the last year.

Alton Smith, who was reviewing online job listings at the ESC office, said the range of available jobs helps keep his spirits up.

"It's called believing. It's called going out and getting it," Smith said.


Rick Smith, Reporter
Renee Chou, Reporter
Anthony Shepherd, Photographer
Matthew Burns, Web Editor

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