Crossposted from Prosperity Watch .
According to new labor market data for released by the Division of Employment Security for February, North Carolina’s economy continues to improve but still faces a long up-hill climb to replace the jobs lost in the Great Recession and to meet the demands of population growth. On the positive side, the unemployment rate dropped for the fifth straight month, from 10.2 percent to 9.9 percent in February. Additionally, labor force participation, a key measure of prime-age workers either currently employed or actively seeking employment, grew by 5,000 in February, following a 17,000 increase in the number of employed workers over the same period. Given that the percentage of the population currently employed improved from 55.6% to 56.7% in February, these data points suggest that the drop in the unemployment rate is genuinely reflecting higher employment in the labor market, and not simply discouraged workers dropping out of the labor force.
 Despite this improvement, North Carolina is still lagging behind in terms of creating enough jobs to replace those lost in the 2007-2010 recession and to keep up with population growth of working-age North Carolinians. This is the state’s “jobs deficit,”—the number of jobs the state needs to create in order to catch up to these employment levels—which currently stands at 520,900. This represents a slight improvement from last month’s jobs deficit of 530,600 jobs, but nonetheless still indicates the long road North Carolina’s labor market needs to travel in order to fully recover from the recession.