- Associated Press - Friday, March 28, 2014

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) - North Carolina’s unemployment rate is continuing to improve.

The state Commerce Department said Friday that the unemployment rate in February dropped to 6.4 percent compared with 6.7 percent in January.

The national unemployment average increased to 6.7 percent in February, from 6.6 percent in January.

Trade, transportation and utilities along with manufacturing saw the largest monthly increase in North Carolina jobs.

The number of people employed increased nearly 7,400 over the last month to nearly 4.4 million, and 48,459 over the last year.

Overall, North Carolina’s unemployment rate has dropped over 2 percentage points in the last year.

Gov. Pat McCrory praised the report, saying it was the first time in nearly eight years that the state’s unemployment rate was below the national average.

“I’m pleased to see that more and more people are getting back to work, but the job is far from finished,” McCrory said in a statement.

“While I am encouraged by the continued progress we have made over such a short period of time, we will remain focused on pro-jobs policies that help people get back to work and position North Carolina for a strong and steady comeback over the long-term,” he said.

Economists say the numbers show the state’s economy is continuing to recover after being battered by the recession.

“The North Carolina economy is slowly improving,” said James Kleckley, director of business research at East Carolina University.

But he noted that the unemployment rate dropped because over the last year 69,000 people have left the labor force.

“When you look at the labor force numbers, it really does give you mixed signals,” he said.