RALEIGH — North Carolina showed the country’s second-largest increase in employment in March, when 19,400 jobs were added and the jobless rate fell to 6.3 percent, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics said Friday.
North Carolina trailed only Florida as employers in 34 states increased nonfarm payrolls last month, continuing the country’s long, slow recovery from a deep recession that started in 2007.
The state’s March jobless rate was below the national average for the second straight month and remained the lowest it’s been in more than five years. The U.S. unemployment rate was 6.7 percent in March.
North Carolina trailed only South Carolina for the largest unemployment rate improvement in the past year. North Carolina had an 8.5 percent jobless rate in March 2013.
In the past year, construction companies added about 6,000 North Carolina jobs while professional and business services added 25,000, the federal report said.
The state Commerce Department was scheduled to release a more detailed snapshot on North Carolina’s jobs picture on Monday. Friday was a holiday for state employees.
Why the state’s employment picture is improving is disputed and laden with political significance.
Republicans say the GOP-led General Assembly’s decisions last summer to cut taxes, unemployment benefits and terminate extended benefits for the long-term jobless made the difference. Friday’s report shows North Carolina’s economy is moving in the right direction because of the decisions by Republican lawmakers, state Senate leader Phil Berger said.
“In the upcoming short session, we’ll remain focused on policies to empower the private sector to create more new jobs and get even more North Carolinians back to work,” said Berger, R-Rockingham.
But economists for months have cautioned that North Carolina’s falling unemployment rate could be the result of people exiting the job market, either because they are discouraged about finding work or other reasons. People who had been required to look for jobs in order to receive benefits may have given up their hunts and were no longer be counted as unemployed.
The number of people either working or looking for jobs fell by 24,000 between July, when North Carolina workers quit receiving extended unemployment benefits, and March, the federal data show. During the same period, employers added 63,000 more jobs to nearly 4.4 million.