Sunday, October 11, 2009

Edgecombe County Unemployment Edges Up, N.C. State Rate Falls

Last month the unemployment rate (for August) increased in Edgecombe County and in the nation, but the rate for North Carolina fell. Remember, these rates are based on the particular characteristics of the area in question, so there is no reason to believe that all rates in NC should follow the same pattern.

While we see many signs that show us that the economy is improving, we are not out of the water. We are simply coming off the bottom of a major slowdown – and few areas have been immune. And as we improve, it is not unusual to experience bumps in the road – or, in this case, up and down variations in the unemployment rate.

The nation’s unemployment rate comes from the Current Population Survey (CPS). The national CPS is a monthly survey of households conducted by the Bureau of Census for the Bureau of Labor Statistics. However, there is no state CPS survey, so the unemployment rates for North Carolina are adaptations from the national survey and less reflective of the State’s labor force. In other words, they are not as accurate or as reliable as the national unemployment rate. If you follow the logic down to the county level, the estimates become less accurate and less reliable presentations of economic health. And, because many of the counties are small, it is not unusual to see more dramatic variations from month to month.

One of the better measures of unemployment -- and the foundation of the variation in the unemployment rates – is the insured employment number. This measure reflects the number of persons that are receiving unemployment checks. This number is published weekly for the nation and North Carolina and monthly for the counties. Many economists are focusing on this number as a very good indicator of the economy – as it is a real count and not an estimate like the unemployment rate.

I have attached graphs for Edgecombe County and for North Carolina. In both cases the current rate is below the peak and (hopefully) on a sustainable downward trend. For Edgecombe, you should be able to see the August uptick that forced the unemployment rate upward. We also see a rise in the North Carolina, but since its numbers are much larger, this rise had a smaller effect statewide on the unemployment rate

Finally, although we could spend a great deal of time talking about the insured unemployment data, we need to be sure to keep the data in perspective. While the increase in Edgecombe is relatively smaller, it really started from a higher level. The August total represents approximately 5.6 percent of the population that are of working age (18-64), while the much higher relative total is only 3.7 percent of the same aged population for North Carolina. So, even when the Edgecombe County economy recovers from the current recession, it will need to add many additional jobs for the working population to be comparatively employed.

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