RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) -- A slight uptick in North Carolina's monthly unemployment rate isn't a reason for concern, especially when combined with an increase in the labor force, an economist said Friday.
North Carolina's unemployment rate was 9.2 percent in December, compared with 9.1 percent in November and 10.4 percent in December 2011. At the same time, the labor force grew by 17,395 people in December.
People may hear of job openings and re-enter the labor force to look for work. Then they're counted, at least temporarily, as unemployed. "This is consistent with the job market improving," said Andrew Brod, economist at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. "The fact that we've seen it happen a number of times is weird. But that may be consistent with the market improving in a spotty and inconsistent manner."
Another issue is that the number of government jobs have remained fairly stable or declined, as they have at the federal level, he said. In three previous recessions, under Presidents Reagan, Clinton and George W. Bush, government employment increased, leading the way out, he said.
"We're still relying on the private sector. There's nothing wrong with that," he said. "But we've chosen not to do highly stimulative things. As a result, we're getting the mild recovery that we are."
Over the year, North Carolina's unemployment rate fell 1 percentage point, from 10.2 percent in January to 9.2 percent in December. "One percentage point in a lot of recent recoveries would be paltry improvement," Brod said. "In this recovery, that's what passes for pretty darn good news."
The unemployment rate is based on a survey of households and has a high margin of error, Brod said. Another survey of businesses and their payrolls shows the state gained 7,900 jobs from November to December.
"On balance it's good because the survey that has the smaller margin of error is the one showing the slightly positive results," Brod said.
North Carolina's rate remains well above the national rate, which was 7.8 percent.
Meanwhile, weekly applications for unemployment benefits increased in North Carolina for the week ending Jan. 5, even as applications dropped sharply nationally to a five-year low.
Applications increased by nearly 14,000 because of layoffs in textiles, business services, construction, furniture and transportation equipment.