Jobless rate declines, but so does labor force


Staff Writer

Thursday, November 8, 2018

Despite recent figures from the state Department of Commerce that show the unemployment rate decreasing in the Twin Counties, there are still local people struggling to find jobs in the area, according to an economist from a major banking and financial service.

According to the state, the unemployment rates declined in September in all 100 counties in North Carolina, including Edgecombe and Nash counties. In Edgecombe County, the unemployment rate dropped from 6.8 percent in August to 5.4 in September.

The county’s jobless rate also fell from 7.2 percent in September 2017. Nash County’s unemployment rate dropped from 5.3 percent in August to 4.2 percent in September, which is also a reduction from the 5.7 percent in September 2017.

Also, the unemployment rate fell for all of the state’s 15 metro areas, including the Rocky Mount metro area that consists of Nash and Edgecombe counties. The jobless rate dropped from 5.8 percent in August to 4.6 percent in September, which was also a decline from 6.2 percent in September 2017.

The Rocky Mount metro’s unemployment rate has continued to decrease from when it peaked at 14.8 percent in February 2010. Gus Faucher, chief economist of PNC Financial Services Group, said the decline in the unemployment is a little misleading based on the amount of people in the local workforce.

Edgecombe County, which has the second-highest unemployment rate, saw its labor force drop from 22,368 in September 2017 to 21,030, while Nash County — that’s ranked with the 12 highest jobless rate — saw its labor force decline from 43,552 in September 2017 to 41,690 in September 2018.

The Rocky Mount metro area’s labor force dwindled from 65,920 in September 2017 to 62,720 in September 2018.

“The reason the unemployment figure has fallen is because the labor force has shrunk, and some of it is people that don’t have jobs are moving out of the area in search of jobs,” Faucher said. “You have fewer people both working in the Rocky Mount area but also looking to work, and that isn’t good for the local economy. Obviously, if you have a smaller labor force that is a smaller pool of available labor, so it makes it difficult to attract businesses.”

The Twin Counties’ unemployment figures continue to be much higher than the state and national jobless rates that are both under 4 percent. Asheville has the lowest unemployment rate at 2.5 percent among metro areas followed by the Raleigh-Durham-Chapel Hill area at 2.7 percent and Charlotte and Burlington areas at 2.9 percent.

Also, the state’s figures reported that the total nonfarm employment, which is a combination of jobs in the public and private sectors, showed over-the-year employment from September 2017 to September 2018 increased in 10 of the 15 metro areas.

However, the Rocky Mount metro area was one of five metro areas that suffered losses with 1,200 job losses from September 2017 to 2018. The highest industry loss was manufacturing with 800 job losses.

Faucher said the old-line manufacturing industries in Rocky Mount have difficulty keeping up with more dynamic economies both nationally and internationally.

“Those areas that are expanding their labor force have different economies than Rocky Mount, and their unemployment rates are declining for the right reasons,” Faucher said. “A place like Asheville is it own separate animal as their economy is tied to tourism. The Charlotte and Research Triangle Park areas are very heavily tied to what is going on nationally and globally, so with better U.S. and global growth those economies are doing quite well. The kind of industries in Rocky Mount really aren’t expanding so it’s indicative of the structural problems that the local economy faces.”

Also reported in the labor statistics were 500 gains in employment over the year in the trade, transportation and utilities industry sector. Faucher said those employment field categories are usually lower paying jobs. There were 200 gains in professional and business services, which are sectors that pay well with positions in law and accounting firms, corporate positions and jobs in information technology services.