RALEIGH, North Carolina — North Carolina's jobless rate fell slightly in February, registering at 5.3 percent for the month, the state Commerce Department reported Friday.
The jobless rate was unchanged from January's revised rate but below the national unemployment rate of 5.5 percent in February. North Carolina's jobless rate has gradually dropped over the past year from 6.5 percent in February 2014.
More than 30,500 additional people landed jobs in February, raising the number of workers to more than 4.4 million.
About the same number of people entered North Carolina's growing labor force, meaning they were looking for jobs or working. The growing labor force helps to explain why the unemployment rate didn't change in February despite more people landing jobs.
"Up until about six months ago, the major portion of the improvement in the unemployment rate was people leaving the labor force," said William "Woody" Hall, an economist at the University of North Carolina Wilmington.
For more than six years after the outbreak of the Great Recession, North Carolina had a consistently higher unemployment rate than the national average until the middle of last year. Since then, the state's jobless rate has been lower than the national average.
Hill believes the state's improving jobs picture owes much to this dynamic: Industries tied to expanding population growth like real estate, construction, mortgage lending and other financial services, and business services like architects have been bouncing back after taking a nosedive during the recession. Construction and business services have been two of the state's fastest-growing employment sectors in the past year.
"Those sectors have apparently bottomed out. We've not seen the kind of growth that we saw prior to 2008, but we are seeing some growth in those sectors," Hill said. "The point being is that people who weren't looking for work are now looking for work and finding work. It's a relatively recent phenomenon."
Average manufacturing hours worked per week and hourly earnings for production workers have also increased in the past year, pointing to a rebound in that crucial and high-paying field, state data show.
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