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'A Disturbing Trend' In Latest N.C. Unemployment Report

North Carolina's unemployment rate declined slightly in February to 9.4 percent. But the report released Thursday shows that unemployment is no longer steadily declining year to year.

Back in February 2010, the unemployment rate peaked in the state at 11.3 percent.

Then North Carolina started slowly but steadily recovering from the recession. In February 2011, the rate was 10.3 percent. A year later, 9.5 percent. And you could see those kind of year-over-year improvements no matter what month you looked at - at least, until this year.

The unemployment rates in January and February were almost the exact same as they were a year ago. Allan Freyer is an analyst for the N.C. Budget and Tax Center.

"I think we are looking at a disturbing trend, but I think it's one that makes sense given the state's manufacturing tradition and what's happening in the global economy," Freyer said.

Freyer said North Carolina relied heavily on manufacturing jobs before the Great Recession. That industry got crushed, and a lot of those jobs moved overseas. Now Freyer said the state needs to build up other industries that can get people back to work.

But state Commerce Department Spokesman Larry Parker says there's another way to look at the latest report. Although the rate hasn't changed much from last year, the number of people with jobs has – about 64,000 more people are employed now. He says the rate hasn't declined with that job growth because the labor force is growing, which means people who were discouraged about the economy and quit looking for jobs have started searching again.   

"I think it's positive when folks are entering the labor force and they are finding work," Parker said. "And when you look at it from a labor force perspective, we know people are finding jobs."

North Carolina's unemployment rate remains well above the national average of 7.7 percent. South Carolina will release its February rate Friday morning.