Triangle jobless rate falls to 5.3 percent

dbracken@newsobserver.comFebruary 6, 2014 

— The Triangle’s jobless rate continued its rapid fall in December, declining five-tenths of a percentage point to 5.3 percent.

The rate is now at its lowest level since August 2008, just before the investment bank Lehman Brothers filed for bankruptcy and the global economy went into a tailspin. The rate has declined a full percentage point over the past two months.

The local unemployment figures for December were released by the N.C. Department of Commerce on Wednesday and seasonally adjusted by Wells Fargo.

The Triangle added 2,500 jobs in December, and added 19,300 jobs last year, down slightly from the gain of roughly 20,000 jobs in 2012.

Those numbers will be revised at the end of the month, and Wells Fargo economist Mark Vitner said the revisions will likely show that job growth has been slightly better – between 20,000 and 25,000 jobs – than the numbers now show.

“We’ve seen some improvement in employment conditions over the course of the year,” he said.

Most of the job growth occurring in the state is happening in the Triangle and Charlotte. The two metro areas accounted for two-thirds of the 64,500 jobs added in North Carolina last year.

“The big issue in North Carolina is the fact that we don’t have this kind of growth spread evenly across the state,” said Michael Walden, an N.C. State University economist. “That’s an old issue. ... Nothing new, but clearly Charlotte and the Triangle are the big growth engines.”

Walden is forecasting that the Triangle will add about 25,000 jobs this year, which could push the unemployment rate down to near 5 percent.

“It could still be stronger, but I think we’re on a path to see better growth in 2014, primarily fueled by two things: the housing market recovery and household finances in better shape,” Walden said.

Vitner is also forecasting that the Triangle will add between 25,000 and 30,000 jobs in 2014.

Despite the recent sell-off in the stock market, he said, “The economic outlook is better today than it’s been at any other time since the recession. ... Over the course of the year, I think we’re going to find out that a lot of the surprises are going to be to the upside for a change.”

Bracken: 919-829-4548; Twitter: @brackendavid

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