Unemployment down again in Durham metro area in December

Feb. 05, 2014 @ 07:27 PM

Unemployment in the Durham-Chapel Hill metro area fell in December to 5.3 percent, the lowest rate in the area since September of 2008.

That’s according to unemployment estimates released Wednesday by the N.C. Department of Commerce’s Labor and Economic Analysis Division that were adjusted for seasonal variations in employment.

The unemployment rate in the metro area, which includes Durham, Orange, Chatham and Person counties, was down compared with November’s 5.7 percent, and down from December of the prior year’s 7.2 percent.

The numbers of unemployed people in the metro area, at 14,737, fell nearly 6 percent from November, and was down about 26 percent compared with the same month in the prior year. Meanwhile, the number of employed people grew by a small margin month-over-month, and grew by a little more than 1 percent compared with the same month last year. Compared with September 2008, the total number of employed people was up by 3 percent in December.

Month-over-month and year-over-year, the size of the area’s labor force saw little change. Compared with September of 2008, the area’s labor force grew by 3 percent.

According to a separate survey of businesses and government agencies about the jobs they have on the payroll, there was employment growth of 2.3 percent from December 2012 through December 2013 in the area.

The survey found that leading the job-growth sectors were government, which gained 3,200 jobs for a 5 percent increase, and leisure and hospitality, which gained 2,500 jobs for an 11 percent jump. Education and health services saw a 1,000-job gain, for a 1.7 percent increase.

Sectors that saw losses included manufacturing, which lost 700 jobs for a 2.1 percent decrease.

James Kleckley, director of the East Carolina University Bureau of Business Research, said he believes that the unemployment rate actually should be higher than the data is showing. In the Durham-Chapel Hill metro area, he said it should be at least 2 percentage points higher.

He said cuts to North Carolina’s unemployment benefits program in July caused the state to lose its federal long-term unemployment benefits and, at that time, it was the only state to do so. The federal bureau that generates the estimates for states use data from all the states to estimate unemployment, he said.

“Because North Carolina reduced benefits relative to other states, I believe that the numbers released by (the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics) understate the true unemployment rate,” he said in an email.

In addition, he said, the numbers of people who receive unemployment checks are only a subset of the total number of unemployed. People who have exhausted their benefit eligibility and who continue to look for a job remain unemployed.

“Other unemployed would include recent high school and college graduates looking for their first job,” Kleckley said.