RALEIGH, North Carolina — North Carolina's unemployment rate is continuing a slow improvement, falling in October to 8.0 percent, the state's lowest level in nearly five years, the state Commerce Department reported Friday.
The new data show North Carolina has gone from having among the highest unemployment rates in August to nearly out of the top 10. Neighboring Georgia and Tennessee now have higher jobless rates, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. North Carolina and California saw the country's second-largest fall in rates in the past year after Florida, the government said.
North Carolina's jobless rate remained higher than the nation's overall 7.3 percent rate in October, but the measure has held at about the same level for the country at large for the past four months while the state's rate has fallen. North Carolina's July unemployment rate of 8.9 percent has fallen each month since. The state's unemployment rate was 9.4 percent in October 2012.
"I have an optimistic perspective on this. We've finally bucked the national trend," said Harry Bowen, an economics professor at the McColl School of Business at Queens University in Charlotte and a former U.S. Labor Department economist. "We're starting to move downward faster than the U.S. is."
The jobs report for September was also released Friday after being delayed by the partial federal government shutdown in October. Businesses like military suppliers that depend on federal contracts may have suffered during the government shutdown but seemed to have avoided lasting impact on employment, Bowen said.
"Given the fairly large drop in unemployment, it just doesn't look like for us that it had any sort of aggregate effect," he said.
The state's nearly 4.3 million workers drawing a paycheck increased by 6,225 in October, but almost twice as many people dropped out of the workforce. The six in 10 working-age adults holding down jobs is lower than the national rate of labor force participation. More workers have become discouraged and quit looking, retired early or moved out of the state for greener pastures, Bowen said.
"The size of the labor pool is shrinking. Of what remains, more of the people that were unemployed have become employed," Bowen said.
Inside the numbers, construction jobs fell again in October, adding to the 2 percent drop in jobs in the field over the past year. That suggests a home construction increase expected to come with rosier economic forecasts hasn't materialized in North Carolina, Bowen said.
White-collar business appears to be picking up with an additional 6,400 professional and business services jobs in October. Hotels and other leisure and hospitality businesses added 1,500 jobs in October and 9,200 over the last year, a good sign indicating people are feeling better about opening up their wallets, Bowen said.
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