Business

Only 2,500 jobs added in NC in last year

Posted May 20, 2011 4:48 p.m. EDT
Updated May 20, 2011 7:48 p.m. EDT

Unemployment

— North Carolina's unemployment rate has ebbed over the past year, but it hasn't led to a growing workforce.

The state jobless rate was 9.7 percent in April, down from 11.1 percent a year ago. Yet, despite a number of corporate expansions, the number of people employed statewide increased by only 2,508 in that time, while the size of North Carolina's labor force plunged by 67,963, according to the state Employment Security Commission.

ESC spokesman Larry Parker said Friday that hiring and labor force numbers don't always align.

"People can leave the labor force for a number of reasons. They can give up looking for work because they're discouraged. They can move. They can retire," Parker said.

Scott Thomas says he might be discouraged by the job market, but he isn't about to give up looking for work.

"As a person who's still unemployed, I'd say (the market) is not picking up," said Thomas, a single father of two who says he's barely hanging on financially.

"When the jobs become available but you don't ever get to put your hands on them, it frustrates you," he said.

The state lost more than 275,000 jobs since the recession began in 2008, and competition is fierce for any new openings, such as the 300 jobs linked to an expansion at computer maker Lenovo that Gov. Beverly Perdue announced Friday.

"We are really, really doing a good job at bringing companies in, but in terms of unemployment, I'm not happy at all," Perdue said of the stagnant job market.

Thomas said he has applied for 650 jobs – everything from management to cleaning dog kennels – with no luck.

"Obviously, 650 jobs in just under two years. I'm not sitting on my butt trying to collect free money," he said.

His unemployment benefits have run out because Perdue and Republican lawmakers cannot reach a compromise on a month-long standoff over an extension.

The U.S. Labor Department notified North Carolina officials in early April that the extended benefits program, which provides 20 weeks of benefits after all regular benefits have been exhausted, had to stop paying out after April 16 because the state's three-month average unemployment rate had improved.

Republican lawmakers linked a move that would keep the extended benefits flowing to a 13 percent spending cut if a state budget isn't approved by the end of June. Perdue called that "extortion" and vetoed the bill.

About 45,000 people in North Carolina are no longer receiving jobless benefits because of the standoff, and the number grows by about 2,000 every week.

"(A weekly unemployment check) is the only thing that keeps me going. That's the only reason I'm where I am," Thomas said. "I hope that they reach an agreement and more jobs come."