Jobless rates edge down, but reason why remains in dispute
Unemployment rates across the High Point area and the vast majority of the state declined from January to February, though whether that signals a turnaround for job-seekers remains an intense point of economic and political debate.
Jobless rates decreased in 95 of the state 100 counties, increased in four and remained the same in one, the N.C. Division of Employment Security reported Wednesday.
The city of High Point jobless rate inched down from 7.2 percent in January to 7 percent in February. But the rate is a marked improvement from a year ago, when the jobless level was 9.5 percent in February 2013, according to Division of Employment Security Commission figures.
Local jobless rates for the past several months have trended at a level that last appeared five and a half years ago as the first effects of the Great Recession were beginning to take hold over the local and national economy.
High Point area counties reflect the trend. Guilford County’s jobless rate dropped from 7.2 percent in January to 6.8 percent in February, and is down from 9.4 percent in February of last year. Randolph County unemployment inched down from 6.6 percent in January to 6.5 percent in February, but is down noticeably from the 10.4 percent rate in February 2013.
Davidson County’s jobless rate decreased from 7.1 percent in January to 6.8 percent in February, and is down from 10.1 percent in February of last year, according to Division of Employment Security figures.
Republican Gov. Pat McCrory and GOP leaders of the N.C. General Assembly are touting the downturn in unemployment since they took control of the executive and legislative branches of state government following McCrory’s gubernatorial win in the fall of 2012. Changes in tax policies and other reforms, such as of the regulatory structure of the state, are paying off in job creation, they contend.
“While I am encouraged by the continued progress we have made over such a short period of time, we will remain focused on pro-jobs policies that help people get back to work and position North Carolina for a strong and steady comeback over the long-term,” McCrory said in a statement last month.
But critics of the McCrory administration and the Republican-controlled General Assembly argue that the drop in unemployment masks a deeper economic problem. Much of the jobless rate reduction, they contend, is from people leaving the active labor force because they are too discouraged to look for work.
“In 11 of 14 of the state’s metro areas, the drop in the unemployment rate between February 2013 and February 2014 was driven by a shrinking labor force and not by large-scale employment growth,” according to the N.C. Justice Center, a Raleigh-based group frequently critical of McCrory and Republican legislative leaders.
In the Greensboro-High Point metropolitan area, fewer than two out of every 10 formerly unemployed workers moved into jobs last year, despite the area’s unemployment rate falling by 3 percentage points, the Justice Center reports.
“The other eight-out-of-10 simply dropped out of the labor force altogether,” according to the center.
The Greensboro-High Point area recorded a net loss of jobs since last February, the weakest job creation since 2010, according to the center.
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