North Carolina's Labor Market Continued to Firm in December, Despite Higher Unemployment
North Carolina's labor markets firmed again in December on strong job gains. However, the state’s unemployment rate edged higher, which was partly a function of more participants in the labor force. Meanwhile, our Carolinas Survey of Business Activity suggests that firms remain reluctant to add workers early in 2013.
Compared to November, the level of employment in North Carolina jumped by 7,900 on a seasonally adjusted basis, while the prior month’s increase was revised upward to show a net gain of 31,600 jobs. December marked the fifth straight month of job growth in the Tar Heel state, leaving employment about 1.8 percent above year-earlier levels.
Almost all of the net new jobs were created in the private sector. The biggest positive contributions to December's job growth were two industries that have been leading the way all year — professional and business services, and private education and health services. The professional and business services sector added a significant number of new jobs in three of the past four months, with about 10,600 coming in the last two. In 2012, employment in this important industry increased by 4.6 percent, outpacing by far the state's economy-wide average of 1.8 percent. Private education and health services firms added approximately 10,200 net new positions in November and December, and employment in the industry was up by 3.0 percent compared to 12 months earlier. Manufacturing employment ended the year with 700 net new jobs in December on top of the roughly 4,900 gained in November. Job growth came in fits and starts during 2012 for manufacturing, with industry employment ending the year about 1.7 percent higher than where it began. Construction employment rose by 400 in December. It was the fourth monthly increase in a row, which has netted North Carolina roughly 5,600 new construction jobs. Still, construction employment was off by about 2.2 percent over the year.
On the flip side, jobs were lost in the large trade, transportation, and utilities sector (−500 in December) as well as the important financial activities industry (−2,000). Financial firms struggled during the last six months of the year, having shed about 4,500 jobs during that period. Employment in leisure and hospitality, which increased robustly in October and November, gave back some of the gains (about 1,300) in December. Government employment declined in December as a loss of nearly 2,900 jobs at the local level more than offset an increase of roughly 2,100 at the state level. Over the year, government employment was unchanged in the state.
North Carolina's seasonally adjusted unemployment rate edged up to 9.2 percent in December from 9.1 percent in November. The slight increase ended a three-month stretch of declines in the unemployment rate. That said, there were 45,000 fewer unemployed workers in December compared to a year earlier, despite an increase of roughly 76,000 participants in the labor force. The recent improvement in North Carolina's labor markets runs counter to a trend that has emerged in our Carolinas Survey of Business Activity, which shows respondents were more cautious about hiring in both December and January.