Area unemployment mostly up in January over last year

Mar. 22, 2013 @ 07:31 PM

Durham County’s unemployment rate was 7.7 percent in January, according to seasonally adjusted estimates, up from what the rate was in December and up from the same month last year.

That’s according to preliminary estimates from the N.C. Department of Commerce’s Labor and Economic Analysis Division released Friday, and seasonally adjusted by the East Carolina University Bureau of Business Research.

The estimates showed year-over-year and month-to-month increases in the unemployment rates in Durham as well as in Orange and Person counties.

Durham County’s rate of 7.7 percent was up from the rate of 7.6 percent that the county saw in December and in January of last year.

Orange County’s seasonally adjusted rate, at 6.5 percent, was up compared to a rate in December of 6.2 percent, and a rate of 6.1 percent in January of last year.

Person County’s rate, at 10.1 percent, was up from 9.3 percent in December and  January of last year.

Chatham County’s rate was 8.2 percent in January, up from December’s 8 percent, and level with January of last year.

James Kleckley, director of the ECU Bureau of Business Research, said he saw big changes in the data that were larger than he would have expected.

“A lot of the data I was looking at – even the seasonally adjusted data – there were big changes in the month,” he said.

Kleckley said in an email that the changes may not have been due to economic factors, but instead due to the estimation procedures that are used to produce the data.

He pointed to a note in Friday’s release from the Labor and Economic Analysis Division that said the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics made changes to its population estimates starting with the January 2013 data, but it did not revise the historical data similarly. The note said the January 2013 labor force statistics are not directly comparable to figures from December 2012 or earlier.

“This change in the estimation process could possibly have a significant impact on the interpretation of the data,” Kleckley said. “In other words, changes from month-to-month and year-to-year might not be due to economic factors.”

In general, Kleckley said, the nation is starting to see employment growth, and the hope is that North Carolina will follow.

“Historically, when times are good in the nation, North Carolina tends to grow more quickly,” he said. “So the hope is that if the nation starts to see more employment growth, we’ll see more employment growth on a relative basis in North Carolina.”

Kleckley also said that North Carolina’s unemployment rate is high compared with other states in the region, suggesting that state is not creating as many jobs as it needs. He also said that the latest census data has shown population growth in the state, such as in the Raleigh-Cary metro area.

The area was ranked as the ninth fastest-growth metropolitan statistical area among metro areas in the nation between April 2010 and July 2012, according to U.S. Census Bureau estimates.

“That means you’re bringing people in, but you’re not bringing enough jobs in,” Kleckley said.

Michael Walden, an N.C. State University professor of agricultural and resource economics, said the economic is improving nationally, and he believes the improvement will be stronger in the Triangle, including around Durham.

“One month is nothing,” he said. “We can never make trends out of one month.”

He pointed to job growth seen year-over-year in the area as the “more important number.” According to the seasonally adjusted data from the ECU Bureau of Business Research, the Durham-Chapel Hill metro area saw an increase in employment of 4,492.