The Triad’s employment sector had a slight improvement during February with the jobless rate decreasing by 1 percentage point to 3.8%, the N.C. Commerce Department reported Wednesday.
The Triad began 2022 with a significant uptick from a two-year low of 3.3% to 3.9%.
By comparison, the Triad rate was 4.2% in March 2020 — the last report before the brunt of the economic downturn began to be experienced.
The February rate also fell in both the five-county Winston-Salem metropolitan statistical area (3.6% in January to 3.5% in February) and three-county Greensboro-High Point MSA (4.2% to 4.1%). Seven of the 14 counties in the Triad and Northwest N.C. experienced a month-over-month rate decrease, including Forsyth from 3.8% 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 an overall loss of 617 in the labor force to 324,149 as of the February report.
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That’s also been a 1,362 increase in those listed as unemployed to 11,667.
When comparing February to January, there was a 415 increase in those in the labor force, as well as a 264 decrease in those listed as unemployed.
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 8.4% in December, while the U.S. rate was 6.9% in February. U.S. Labor updates the state U6 rates on a quarterly basis.
Michael Walden, an economics professor at N.C. State University, has cautioned in recent months that “there is still improvement to be made, especially in raising the labor force participation rate.”
“But if COVID-19 eventually is contained, school schedules become firmer, and employers continue to offer better pay and benefits, then progress should continue.”
Labor force churn
Many economists consider a 5% jobless rate as symbolically representing “full employment,” 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 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 February, the Winston-Salem metro had a month-over-month gain of 2,100 jobs.
About 900 of those were in leisure and hospitality sector, along with 400 each in professional and business services, and in manufacturing and government.
There was a loss of 300 trade, transportation and utilities jobs.
By comparison, Greensboro-High Point had a gain of 2,800 jobs, of which 1,500 were in professional and business services, and 500 in manufacturing.
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 4.600 jobs comparing February 2021 to February 2022, while the Greensboro-High Point MSA had a net gain of 10,100 jobs.
For the Winston-Salem MSA, there were a net gain of 2,800 in leisure and hospitality jobs, 1,100 in manufacturing, 1,000 in government and 500 in financial activities.
There were losses of 1,200 professional and business services jobs, and 500 education and health services jobs.
For the Greensboro-High Point MSA, there were a net gain of 3,400 government jobs, along with 3,100 in leisure and hospitality, 2,100 in trade, transportation and utilities, 1,800 in professional and business services and 1,500 in manufacturing.
There were losses of 1,700 in education and health services, and 400 in financial activities.
Stuart Hoffman, a senior economic advisor for PNC Financial Services Group, said that “the labor market remains in excellent shape in the first quarter.”
“Demand for labor is very strong, and with the labor force smaller than it was before the pandemic, firms are competing for workers and bidding up wages.”