Editorial: Unemployment news not great, but could be much worse

Mar. 24, 2013 @ 06:44 PM

Durham’s unemployment rate notched slightly upward in January compared to the same time in 2012.

We came in at 7.7 percent, up from 7.6 last year on our seasonally adjusted estimates, according to a report from The Herald-Sun’s Laura Oleniacz.

That’s not the direction we want to be going, but it’s better than the statewide average of 9.5 percent and still below the national average of 8.5 percent, which actually fell a little compared to last year.

It’s been a mixed bag on the employment front throughout the nation, according to a report released Friday by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Durham is among the 124 metropolitan areas that saw an increase in unemployment, while rates dropped in 372 and didn’t change at all in 21. Twelve metro areas around the United States, including some in California, New Jersey and Michigan, all had jobless rates between 10 and 15 percent.

The worst places for unemployment in January, it turns out, were Yuma, Ariz., and El Centro, Calif. Respectively, they had rates of 26.5 and 25.8 percent. The lowest unemployment rates could be found in the Texas towns of Midland and Odessa (3.4 and 4.1 percent).

So, no, 7.7 percent isn’t great. It means we still have far too many people out of work at a time when we want to see continued evidence of an economic turnaround with more jobs and a thriving business climate.

Look around the country, though, and it’s obvious that we still have it pretty good and should recognize the potential for the Triangle to successfully rebound.

And our little local uptick could just be due to a change in calculus.

James Kleckley, director of the ECU Bureau of Business Research, noted that changes in how the BLS computes its population estimates might have resulted in a shift.

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

Regardless, the numbers seem at best stagnant and at worst a signal of slippage toward further joblessness.

Kleckley seemed optimistic that we’re on the verge of new growth.

“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.”

As the nation goes, so go our state and cities, we hope.