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NC’s jobless rate doesn’t show whole employment picture

Provided by Business North Carolina, Dan Barkin on August 22, 2022 —

The North Carolina unemployment rate came out Friday for July. It was unchanged from June at 3.4%, seasonally adjusted. It is 1.5 percentage points lower than a year ago. It is lower than the national rate of 3.5%.

I talked with Laura Ullrich about the jobs data after the numbers were released. She is a senior regional economist with the Federal Reserve bank of Richmond and a former economics professor and administrator at Winthrop University in Rock Hill, South Carolina. She analyzes the numbers and then talks to reporters on conference calls in our Fed district, and that’s why we were chatting. I dialed in as she was winding up with reporters in South Carolina, where the rate is 3.2%.

Although the statewide jobless rate gets a fair amount of attention, it is just one number. There are other data points that give a more complete picture of how things are going.

North Carolina now has 162,100 more folks working than pre-pandemic, said Ullrich. The U.S. has basically recovered all the jobs lost during COVID, but it is flat to February 2020. “So, North Carolina did well,” she said.

Some sectors have recovered better than others, but nearly all gained jobs in July. Government, which has not recovered all the jobs that were lost in North Carolina, added 12,900 in July. Professional and business services, now with 10% more jobs than pre-pandemic employment levels, added 5,100 jobs last month, Ullrich noted. Financial activities, a sector that has been the strongest performer for the last couple of years, added another 700 jobs in July and is now up 30,200 jobs compared to pre-COVID.

Companies in some sectors are having problems hiring.

“I have people ask me all the time, ‘Where are the workers?’ Because they’re still seeing labor shortages,” said Ullrich. “They go to McDonald’s and the lobby’s closed. Or they go to a restaurant and there aren’t enough waiters.

“But the answer to that is, really, the workers are working. And now many of them are just working in different sectors.”

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Provided by Business North Carolina, Dan Barkin