The Wake Jobs Picture: In Context

With the Wake County unemployment rate stuck above 7.5 percent for 40 of the last 41 months (after never being that high in any single month in the last 20 years), you might conclude that the job market is terrible. It is terrible if you are unemployed, but the job market as a whole is more complex. Over the next four commentaries, we will look closely at the Wake County job market in context and compared to other places.

We will examine how the growth in the local labor force has affected the unemployment rate. We will then scrutinize where the jobs are coming from, what size and types of companies are growing, and what skills are in demand. Finally, we will identify the policies that could accelerate job growth. By the end of the calendar year, the discussions about jobs in Greater Raleigh Chamber of Commerce and Wake County Economic Development meetings will be filled with new facts and inevitably, new questions.

In this first commentary, we put Wake County into context within North Carolina and the Southeast. For this look, we focus on two sets of numbers: employment and jobs. Wake County employment refers to people that live in Wake County regardless of where they work. Wake County jobs refer to actual jobs within the county, regardless of who occupies that job. In an integrated regional economy like the Research Triangle Region, the labor force crosses City and County boundaries in great numbers.

Over the past 11 years from 2000 to the end of 2011, the State of North Carolina added 530,099 net new people to the labor force, bringing the total to 4, 653,911 for a 12.9 percent growth. During that same period, the state actually lost 34,418 net jobs. The total jobs dropped from 3,871,219 to 3,836,792. Obviously, many of those jobs were lost during the recession, but job growth over the whole decade has been much slower than population and labor force growth. For a wide variety of reasons, people have moved to North Carolina, and over a half million people joined the ranks of those looking for a job. Over the past twelve months, North Carolina has 37,000 more people working.

Looking more closely at the ten most populous counties in North Carolina, it is clear that people moved not just to North Carolina, but also to specific areas. All but one of the top ten counties added new people to the labor force, but Wake County led the way with over 107, 000 new workers for growth of just under 30 percent. 

Labor Force Growth 2000-2011

When combined, the top ten counties accounted for 65 percent of the labor force growth statewide. In 2000, those counties totaled 43 percent of the statewide labor force. This reflects the global urbanization trend. Both people and jobs are moving to urban areas in big numbers.

The numbers for job growth in the ten most populous counties is even more dramatic.

Wake, Durham and Mecklenburg counties added 104,989 jobs. The other seven in the top ten lost a total of just over 12,000 jobs and the other 90 counties lost a staggering 127,150-combined net jobs.

Job Growth 2000-2011

In Wake County, the employment story is the strongest job growth of the largest counties, 15 percent for 2000-2011. However, it is also the largest real gain in labor force, 107,547 or 29.4 percent. In June of 2012, 444,121 Wake County residents were employed. In June 2007, before the recession, the unemployment rate was 3.7 percent, but only 430,928 Wake County residents were employed.

The North Carolina unemployment rate is currently 9.9 percent. The current Wake unemployment rate of 7.8 percent makes no one happy, but it is the lowest among North Carolina’s big counties.

Unemployment Rate June 2012

The latest Metro Monitor from The Brookings Institute ranks the Raleigh-Cary metro overall recovery performance 32nd of the 100 largest metros, a big improvement from last quarter’s 53rd. The metro employment picture is 13th best among the top 100 metros in the United States. Here are a few Southeast metros for comparison.

Brookings Employment Ranking Among the Top 100 Metros

Raleigh-Cary 13th
Charlott e 20th
Greensboro 52nd
Richmond 28th
VA Beach 83rd
Greenville, SC 17th
Charleston, SC 11th
Atlanta 43rd
Nashville 8th
Tampa 29th
Orlando 63rd
Austin 3rd
Oklahoma City 8th

Also old favorite competitors...
        Boston 51st
        San Jose 4th

Recent rankings for future jobs and careers by many organizations continue to present an optimistic future for the Raleigh-Cary metro, not something many places can claim. Next month, we will look at how jobs and wages have changed in Wake County over the past decade. If you have questions, please contact me at tabernathy@southern.org.

Greater Raleigh Chamber of Commerce
800 S. Salisbury Street
Raleigh, NC 27601

Wake County Economic Development
800 S. Salisbury Street
Raleigh, NC 27601

Southern Growth Policies Board
P.O. Box 12293
Research Triangle Park, NC 27709


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