Labor statistics released today show that North Carolina’s unemployment rate was down to 6.4 percent in February, a drop that puts it below the state average for the first time since before the recession.
But the numbers released this morning by the state commerce department’s labor and economic analysis division also show the state’s labor force dropped by nearly 64,000 jobs from last year – an indication that the gains made in the unemployment rate may be due to individuals dropping out of the workforce.
The state’s labor force — made up of people currently in jobs and those looking for work — was 4.66 million in February, a drop from the 4.72 million this time last year, according to data released today in the jobs report.
The unemployment rate, which is down from the 8.6 percent the state experience in 2013, has emerged as a politically contentious point regarding the health of North Carolina’s economy.
Gov. Pat McCrory’s office has held up the steadily dropping unemployment right as a sign that North Carolina is on the right track.
“I’m pleased to see that more and more people are getting back to work, but the job is far from finished,” said Governor Pat McCrory, according to a written statement released by his office.
Critics, however, say that looking at the unemployment rate numbers alone missed out on other important economic trends, including stagnant unemployment among some groups that have spurred many to simply stop looking for jobs.
Josh Ellis, McCrory’s spokesman, said North Carolina, like much of the nation, is beginning to see the baby boomer generation begin to retire, an explanation for much of the drop in the labor force.
“That’s a national trend,” Ellis said.
Allan Freyer, an analyst with the N.C. Justice Center’s Budget and Tax Center, said that the 64,000 people who dropped out of the labor force over the last year is too large to just be exiting seniors.
Only four out of every 10 jobless workers from last February (2013) have found work, meaning that six of those individuals are either still looking for work or have just stopped looking.
Freyer also had this more extensive analysis on today’s job numbers.
Here’s a chart from commerce’s labor and economics division with today’s data: