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N.C. unemployment rate falls to 9.6 percent

RALEIGH — North Carolina is still struggling with significant unemployment, despite a small drop in the jobless rate announced today.

The unemployment rate declined to 9.6 percent in September from 9.7 percent in August, but that can be explained by the number of jobless workers simply leaving the labor market, according to Michael Walden, an economist at North Carolina State University.

“That was totally due to the number of people in the labor force being reduced,” he said.

According to data released by the state Employment Security Commission, there are 430,283 people listed as unemployed in North Carolina, a drop of 6,521 from August. But the actual size of the labor force itself fell by 6,665 workers last month.

Hiring increases offered better news, with roughly 10,100 jobs being added to payrolls in September. Much of the lift came from the public sector, which added 9,600 workers.

“While the monthly jobs numbers indicated that government employment had the largest increase, the state experienced gains in several other sectors as well,” ESC Chairwoman Lynn Holmes said in a statement.

Leisure and hospitality services added 5,500 jobs, and another 3,300 were added to payrolls in trade, transportation and utilities, but these were largely offset by losses elsewhere. Of 10 private sector categories tracked by the state, seven lost jobs last month, with the biggest loss coming in manufacturing, which shed roughly 3,800 jobs.

“I read this as a mixed report, and not very encouraging,” Walden said. “I think it’s indicative of the economy nationally, as well as here in North Carolina, moving at a sluggish pace.”

The national unemployment rate stands at 9.6 percent, matching the state’s. It’s the first time since March 2008 that North Carolina’s jobless rate wasn’t higher than the national figure.

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