January jobless rate hit 9.7 percent

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, December 1, 2009

RALEIGH (AP) ó North Carolina manufacturing and construction workers lost jobs by the thousands in January, pushing the state’s unemployment to 9.7 percent ó the highest rate in more than 25 years, the state’s Employment Security Commission said Wednesday.
The state lost a total of 38,000 non-farm jobs in January.
The mounting layoffs during the month meant North Carolina and South Carolina tied for the country’s largest jump in joblessness over the previous year, with each state’s rate soaring by 4.7 percentage points since January 2008. North Carolina’s unemployment rate for December was previously announced at 8.7 percent, but was since revised down to 8.1 percent, the Employment Security Commission said Wednesday.
The plunging opportunities for workers saw 11,500 manufacturing jobs lost in January and 10,300 jobs in construction, the sectors most battered since the U.S. housing bubble burst and the recession officially started in December 2007. Even one of the economy’s few bright spots, educational and health services, shed 5,800 North Carolina jobs in January, though the sector had added 2,900 jobs overall in the previous year.
North Carolina shed jobs along with the rest of the country in January, when the national unemployment rate was 7.6 percent.
January’s job losses were punctuated by layoffs of 320 jobs at boatmaker Hatteras Yachts in Craven County, 182 jobs at Master Brand Cabinets Inc. in Lenoir County, and 141 jobs at auto parts maker Getrag Corp. in Catawba County. Freightliner announced in January layoffs of nearly 1,500 workers that would take effect this week at truck plants in Rowan and Gaston counties.
The bad news for manufacturing workers continued Wednesday with Dell Corp. disclosing layoffs at its much-touted computer assembly plant in Forsyth County. Dell spokesman Jess Blackburn declined to describe the size of the layoffs at the plant, which opened in 2005 after being coaxed by promised state and local economic incentives of more than $300 million.
“Today we’re taking some actions consistent with what we’ve been doing for the past year or more, really on a global basis,” Blackburn said. “We’re taking steps to streamline our operation and improve our competitiveness. This is just the most recent activity related to that.”
Dell has been shifting more work from its own factories to contract manufacturers and correspondingly cut its work force since realizing last year it was too dependent on the sinking personal computer market and U.S. sales. The Round Rock, Texas-based company said last month it plans to cut $4 billion in annual costs by the end of fiscal 2011, $1 billion more than its earlier goal.
The state’s unemployment rate last matched January’s level in March 1983, when the country was mired in a serious recession characterized by a crumbling auto industry.
North Carolina’s highest recorded jobless rate was 10.2 percent in February 1983. The state’s records go back only to 1976, when the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics standardized its current analysis method, and were not recalculated to measure unemployment during the Great Depression, Employment Security Commission spokesman Larry Parker said.