As of February, the state’s unemployment rate dipped to 6.4 percent, below the national average of 6.7 percent.
It has dropped 2.2 percentage points in the last year, despite the state losing 11,300 nonfarm jobs last month.
Some nonfarm job sectors saw growth in February, particularly manufacturing, trade and finance.
John Hood, president and chairman of the John Locke Foundation, said the numbers are hard to interpret.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics bases the employment reports on two surveys: the payroll survey, which tracks how many people have been added or subtracted from companies’ payrolls, and the household survey, which tracks the employment status of members of households.
“North Carolina employers shrank their numbers in February by a large number, while households showed an increase (in employment),” Hood said. “This may sound impossible, and that is probably the truth.”
Hood said it is better to draw conclusions from long-term trends rather than seasonally adjusted data that will likely be adjusted in the coming months.
“The bottom line is that from 2011 to 2013, North Carolina has outperformed the national average in terms of income growth and employment, but these numbers in February are alarming,” he said. “If they continue, I would be concerned.”
North Carolina opted out of federal employment benefits last July, causing many long-term unemployed people to leave the labor market, which led some to believe the unemployment numbers were skewed, as not all unemployed state residents were counted in the totals.
Michael Walden, an economist at N.C. State University, said the state’s jobless rate has been dropping over the last six months.
“Some part is due to individuals without work ‘dropping out of the labor force,’” he said. “Indeed, in the February report, half of the unemployment rate drop was due to folks finding work, but the other half was due to a reduction in the labor force.”
Job opportunities are improving for recent college graduates, but it still isn’t a healthy market, Hood said.
“I am nervous about finding a job,” said Emily Farthing, a UNC sophomore political science major. “I have heard of people with political science degrees being managers at Golden Corral, so that doesn’t seem so promising. Graduate school kind of gets pushed on you to find a job, so I imagine a lot of people will turn to that.”