RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — North Carolina's unemployment rate continued improving in January to near the national average, falling to 6.7 percent, the state Commerce Department reported Monday.
The report was the latest to contain mixed messages about how well the state's economy was shaping up for workers and why. While the report found the number of people employed increased by 17,407 between December and January, another survey found nonfarm payrolls recorded 7,200 fewer jobs.
"We've been in this kind of transitional period for years now. There are times when I say I wish I could have some news that was all good or all bad. If it was all good or all bad, it would be easy to interpret," said Andrew Brod, a senior researcher at the business school at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. "You take the numbers as a whole. They're not all good or all bad."
The state's jobless rate of 6.7 percent in January, down from 6.9 percent in December, was almost on par with the national average of 6.6 percent.
The state rate ranked 33rd in the country in January, according to U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics data released Monday. That's a big improvement over the previous January, when North Carolina's unemployment rate of 9.5 percent was among the worst in the country.
The report also marks a missed goal for Gov. Pat McCrory, who said during a campaign debate weeks before his November 2012 election that he wanted North Carolina's unemployment rate to be more favorable than South Carolina after his first year in office. McCrory took office in January 2013.
"The best way to measure things is to benchmark against your competitors, and within a year I hope we're at least beating South Carolina — my gosh, we ought to be at least beating South Carolina," McCrory said during the October 2012 debate.
But South Carolina's unemployment rate fell to 6.4 percent in January.
In an email, McCrory spokesman Ryan Tronovitch said: "Gov. McCrory is focused on long-term, sustainable policies that lead to job growth and we have seen a large drop in the unemployment rate through our first year because of that. South Carolina is stiff competition, and we will continue to do all that we can to get people back to work."
The release of the January data was delayed by about a month as researchers revised and updated previous information, an annual process. The results of the revision indicate that the steady drop in North Carolina's unemployment rate had less to do than previously thought with discouraged workers quitting their struggle to find jobs and no longer being counted, Brod said.
About 60,000 dropped out of the pool of people either holding jobs or looking for work in the year ending in January, while nearly 106,000 left the unemployed list, the state report said. That indicated around 60 percent of the decline in the unemployment rate was due to people ending their job searches, for whatever reason, rather than landing jobs, Brod said.
"In terms of the flight from the labor force, it's looking as though last year wasn't as bad as we previously thought," Brod said.
Emery Dalesio can be reached at http://twitter.com/emerydalesio.