The Twin Counties unemployment rate plunged in February of this year compared to the same month last year, but it’s not because the job market has improved, officials said.
The counties’ labor force continues to drastically decrease, which is a major contributing factor in the drop in the unemployment numbers, officials said.
The declining labor numbers are coming out at a time when the latest U.S. Census numbers show a decreasing population in the Twin Counties.
Between 2010 and 2012, Rocky Mount’s population dropped from 57,471 to 54,136. The population in Nash County dropped from 95,517 in 2012 to 95,093 in 2013. Edgecombe County’s population dropped from 55,736 in 2012 to 55,574 in 2013.
At the same time, North Carolina’s population continued to increase, from about 9.75 million in 2012 to almost 9.85 million in 2013. Nash County’s unemployment rate in February was 8.6 percent, a decrease from last year’s 12.1 percent rate in the same month.
Larry Parker, a spokesman for the Labor and Economic Analysis Division of the N.C. Department of Commerce, said the reduction in the labor force is a factor in the drop in the unemployment numbers. The labor force includes people who are employed and those who are unemployed but actively seeking work.
In February, the labor force in Nash County was 41,901, a decrease from 45,623 in February 2013. The labor force in Edgecombe County was 22,840 in February, a decrease from 24,866 people in February 2013.
Edgecombe County’s unemployment rate in February was 11.6 percent, a decrease from last year’s 15.2 percent rate in the same month.
He said the Twin Counties is not alone in the decline of the labor force.
“We know it’s not just a North Carolina phenomenon,” he said. “This is regional, and we’re seeing it in other states.”
The Rocky Mount Metropolitan Statistical Area, which includes Nash and Edgecombe counties, had a 9.6 percent unemployment rate in February, the highest unemployment rate of the state’s 15 metro areas.
Also, there were 200 fewer jobs in the Twin Counties this February than the same month last year, Parker said.
The labor force is not decreasing in all areas of the state. Parker said.
“Over the last year, the Raleigh-Cary metro labor force has gained just over 9,000 people,” Parker said. “The number of people employed is up by almost 23,000 people. And the number of unemployed is down, so here is an example of a metro that has done very well over the last year.”
Michael Walden, an economics professor at N.C. State University, said smaller towns such as Rocky Mount have not been able to recover from the decline of the textile and tobacco industries.
“I was in Rocky Mount the other weekend driving around, and you see a lot of vacant warehouses boarded up,” he said.
“The area has not been able to recover from that to find the next good thing for them – so people are leaving, jobs are not coming and it’s a very challenging situation.”