The Triad’s jobless rate reversed course during May, increasing from 3.5% to 3.8%, the N.C. Commerce Department reported Wednesday.
The rate had been on a decline the past four months.
Still, the rate remains down from 4.2% in March 2020 — the last report before the brunt of the economic downturn began to be experienced — and 5.4% in May 2021.
The May rate also rose in both the five-county Winston-Salem metropolitan statistical area (3.3% in April to 3.6% in May) and in the three-county Greensboro-High Point MSA (3.8% to 4%).
All 14 counties in the Triad and Northwest N.C. experienced a month-over-month rate increase, including Forsyth from 3.5% to 3.7%.
Economists continue to stress that the overall jobless-rate decline over the past year remains more related to individuals leaving the labor force rather than a significant net gain in hiring.
Since March 2020, the five-county MSA of Davidson, Davie, Forsyth, Stokes and Yadkin had a 741 increase in the labor force to 329,302 as of the May report.
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That’s also been a 606 increase in those listed as unemployed to 11,716.
The state and county-level labor-force data does not distinguish how many workers are full time, temporary or part time, or how many jobs people are working.
The U.S. Labor Department’s U6 Index does include those individuals.
The state’s U6 jobless rate was 7.8% on March 31, while the U.S. rate was 7.1% in May. U.S. Labor updates the state U6 rates on a quarterly basis.
Labor force churn
Many economists consider a 5% jobless rate as symbolically representing “full employment.”
It is typically defined as the point at which everyone who wants a job has one, employers have the skilled workers they need, and there is limited inflationary pressure on wages.
However, the job market remains challenging for people without the technical and other specialized skills needed in advanced manufacturing jobs.
The monthly unemployment reports during 2021 and 2022 continually showed the Winston-Salem metro area was recovering at a slightly faster pace in terms of jobs than the Greensboro-High Point metro.
During May, the Winston-Salem metro had a month-over-month gain of 2,000 jobs.
Leading the net gains was 1,000 in leisure and hospitality, 300 each in manufacturing and in education and health services, and 200 each in construction and in professional and business services.
Those losses were offset somewhat by a 100 loss in trade, transportation and utilities.
By comparison, Greensboro-High Point had an overall net gain of 200 jobs in May, of which 600 were in the leisure and hospitality sector, along with 400 in manufacturing.
There were a loss of 900 in government, 400 in professional and business services and 300 in trade, transportation and utilities.
Most economists prefer taking a year-over-year approach to reviewing economic trends, although the daily economic uncertainty of the pandemic makes that kind of comparison more challenging.
For example, the Winston-Salem MSA is up 5,400 jobs comparing May 2021 to May 2022, while the Greensboro-High Point MSA had a net gain of 11,300 jobs.
For the Winston-Salem MSA, there were a net gain of 2,600 in leisure and hospitality jobs, 1,300 each in manufacturing, 1,000 in government, 500 in financial activities and 400 in education and health services.
There were losses of 600 professional and business services jobs, and 400 in trade, transportation and utilities.
For the Greensboro-High Point MSA, there were a net gain of 3,500 in leisure and hospitality, 2,400 in professional and business services, 2,400 in manufacturing, 2,200 in trade, transportation and utilities and 2,000 in government.
There was a loss of 600 each in education and health services, 400 in financial activities, and 200 each in information technology and in construction.
Michael Walden, an economist at N.C. State University, said that the Triad and state economies are “looking at a challenging time — economically speaking — over the next six months to a year.”
“Similar to 40 years ago, the country is facing relatively high inflation rates that don’t appear to be subsiding. The trick is for Federal Reserve is to slow the pace of economic growth without causing a recession.”
Walden said that the “best comparison to the current situation — the high inflation rates of the late 1970s and early 1980s — resulted in a hard landing.”
“The possibility of a hard landing is what is bothering the stock market, as well as businesses and consumers.
“Right now, I put my forecasts of a recession occurring right at 50%. That’s double what I thought eight months ago.”
Gus Faucher, chief economist for PNC Financial Services Group, said that “North Carolina job growth will slow over the next year because of both the tight labor market and slower national economic growth.”
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