Triangle jobless rate dips, but economist calls it a ‘false hope’

Latest statistics show Triangle's unemployment rate declined in March, but the number of people working also fell. N.C. Sate economist Mike Walden says many people have given up looking for jobs and that job market is actually worsening.

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RALEIGH, N.C. — The employment picture brightened a bit in the Raleigh-Cary, Durham-Chapel Hill and Fayetteville metropolitan areas last month, according to the North Carolina State Employment Commission.

However, North Carolina State University economist Michael Walden said the new numbers are not a true indicator of the job market.

He called the dip a “false hope,” noting that frustrated people who have given up looking for jobs are no longer counted among the unemployed and are the reason for the rate drops.

Even as the number of unemployed in North Carolina remained at record highs, the jobless rate in Durham-Chapel Hill declined to 7.6 percent in March from 8 percent in February.

Orange County’s unemployment rate is the best in the state at an even lower 6.1 percent. Durham’s rate is 7.7 percent.

The state’s unemployment rate is 10.9 percent, one of the nation’s highest.

In Raleigh-Cary, unemployment dipped slightly to 8.6 percent in March from 8.8 percent in February. Wake County’s overall jobless rate is 8.2 percent.

Fayetteville’s unemployment rate also dropped in March to 9.1 percent from 9.5 percent the previous month.

Walden, however, said the state's employment challenge is not improving.

“The numbers give a false hope, based on how the unemployment rate is calculated,” he said.

For example, in the Raleigh-Cary metro area, jobs in March fell by 2,539, compared to job loss of 746 in February, yet the metro unemployment rate dropped from 8.8 percent to 8.6 percent. The reason, Walden said: To be counted as "unemployed," a person must be out of work and actively looking for work, such as sending out résumés and going on job interviews.

“What apparently happened in March was that many unemployed workers stopped actively looking for work, and so they are not counted as unemployed,” he said.

“Indeed, such workers are not even counted in the labor force. Bottom line – the acceleration of job losses in March show a worsening job market.”

In Raleigh-Cary, some 1,300 jobs were added in trade, transportation and utilities, and another 800 jobs were added in government as well as in education and health services. However, those gains were more than offset by a drop of 1,800 construction and mining jobs, plus a 1,300-drop in professional and business services and a 500-job loss in the manufacturing sector.

Durham-Chapel Hill added 400 education and health services positions but lost 600 in professional and business services, 500 in manufacturing and 400 in government.

Across the state’s other metros, unemployment rates fell with the exception of Greenville. The entire list:

  • Asheville — 9.4 percent, down from 9.6 percent in February.
  • Burlington — 11.8 percent, down from 11.9 percent.
  • Charlotte-Gastonia-Concord NC-SC — 11.4 percent, down from 11.7 percent.
  • Durham-Chapel Hill — 7.6 percent, down from 8 percent.
  • Fayetteville — 9.1 percent, down from 9.5 percent.
  • Goldsboro — 9.2 percent, down from 9.7 percent.
  • Greensboro-High Point — 11.3 percent, down from 11.6 percent.
  • Greenville — 10.5 percent, no change.
  • Hickory-Lenoir-Morganton — 15.4 percent, down from 15.6 percent.
  • Jacksonville — 8.3 percent, down from 9.0 percent.
  • Raleigh-Cary — 8.6 percent, down from 8.8 percent.
  • Rocky Mount — 14.1 percent, down from 14.5 percent.
  • Wilmington — 10.2 percent down from 10.8 percent.
  • Winston-Salem — 10.2 percent, down from 10.4 percent.
Statewide, unemployment also fell in 84 of the 100 counties while increasing in 11 and staying the same in the remaining five.

“While many of our counties are experiencing a slight decrease in unemployment, our state still faces significant challenges because of national recession,” said ESC Chairman Moses Carey Jr. in a statement.

According to the ESC, the number of unemployed in March climbed 16,600 to 494,852. People with jobs fell to 4,044,235, down 12,350 from the previous month.

Scotland County’s unemployment is the state’s highest at 16.6 percent.


Rick Smith, Reporter

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