- Associated Press - Wednesday, May 27, 2015

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) - A continuing stream of sidelined workers who have resumed looking for jobs caused North Carolina’s unemployment rate to tick up to 5.5 percent in April.

It marked the first time in 11 months that the state’s jobless rate was higher than the national average, the state Commerce Department reported Wednesday.

The North Carolina rate rose to 5.5 percent in April from 5.4 percent in March. The national average dropped by an identical amount to April’s 5.4 percent. The last time the national jobless average was lower than North Carolina’s mark was June.

Between March and April, an additional 25,712 people joined North Carolina’s workforce and nearly 7,500 said they were looking for jobs, the report said. Those two groups - the number of people who have jobs and those who say they are looking - are described as the overall labor force.

North Carolina’s labor force rose by 65,000 between February and April while the entire country grew by about 70,000 in that period, said Patrick Conway, chairman of the economics department at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. The rapid growth in the number of people looking for work caused the small unemployment rate rise last month, he said.

“People are coming back into the labor force after being discouraged,” Conway said. “That unemployment is rising is an indication of people newly back in the job market and still looking for work. I interpret that in a positive way.”

In the past year, the number of North Carolina residents who reported being employed increased by more than 143,300. That growth in jobs outstripped labor force growth, causing the state’s unemployment rate to fall by 0.9 percent since April 2014.

But worrying elements of the monthly report show up in the estimates of jobs are being created, Conway said.

Leisure and hospitality jobs like those in restaurants and hotels have been among the big gainers behind construction over the past year. Manufacturing jobs, which paid an average of $16.86 an hour in April, declined last month and have been among the slow-growing sectors of North Carolina’s economy.

“The jobs that are being created, I don’t expect them to have as high a wage as those that are being removed. That’s an area for concern going forward,” Conway said.

Government jobs also were a major growth sector in April, adding 5,000 positions over the month. That suggests that as the post-recession economy improves and tax collections increase, state and local governments may be gradually refilling positions lost earlier, Conway said.


Emery P. Dalesio can be reached at https://twitter.com/emerydalesio

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