The annual benchmarking of the Triad’s unemployment rate showed the job market wasn’t quite as strong as it appeared for most of 2019.

A month after the Triad’s jobless rate dropped to a 15-month low of 3.3% in December, the recalculated rate jumped to a five-month high of 4% in January.

The annual benchmarking of the state’s employment data is required to meet U.S. Labor Department guidelines.

Because employment data is collected and calculated during the week in which the 12th of the month falls, it is likely the April state and county-level reports will be the first to reflect the waves of job losses related to the COVID-19 virus.

All 14 counties in the Triad and Northwest North Carolina experienced a rate increase, as much as 1.2 percentage points in Ashe (from 3% in December to 4.2% in January, as well as 1.1 percentage points (from 4.5% to 5.6%) in Alleghany.

Forsyth County’s rate climbed from 3.2% to 3.9%, while Guilford County’s rate increased from 3.4% to 4.2%.

The benchmarking also served to wipe away most of the reported job gains in 2019.

In the December report, the five-county Winston-Salem area had a year-over-year net gain of 5,000 jobs, highlighted by 2,000 in leisure and hospitality, 1,400 in education and health services, 700 in manufacturing and 600 in construction.

However, after the benchmarking, the region had a net gain of just 300 jobs from January 2019 to January 2020.

There was an 800 increase in leisure and hospitality jobs that likely will be erased with the layoffs and job cuts in those sectors this month. There also were net gains of 500 construction and 400 education and health services jobs.

Nearly offsetting those gains: a loss of 1,800 jobs in the professional and business services sector.

There was a decline of 2,300 jobs in the Winston-Salem area from December to January, most notably 1,000 in the trade, transportation and utilities sector, along with a loss of 400 each in manufacturing and government. None of the 10 workforce categories had a monthly gain.

By comparison, the three-county Greensboro-High Point area had a net gain of 6,900 jobs from December 2018 to December 2019, highlighted by 3,500 in trade, transportation and utilities, 1,500 in education and health services, 1,100 in leisure and hospitality and 700 in manufacturing.

With the benchmarking, the region experienced a 900 increase, led by 1,600 leisure and hospitality jobs, 800 in financial activities and 700 in education and health services.

Those were offset by a loss of 1,700 professional and business services, 600 in manufacturing and 300 in construction.

From December to January, there was an overall loss of 5,600 jobs, led by 1,900 trade, transportation and utilities jobs, along with 1,100 in professional and business services, 800 in government, 600 in education and health services and 400 in manufacturing.

Like the Winston-Salem MSA, there was not a net gain of jobs in any of the 10 workforce sectors.

Some economists and analysts have not been overly encouraged with the jobless-rate picture over the past year.

They stress that North Carolina’s employment recovery has occurred mostly in its five urban counties, particularly in Charlotte and the Triangle, which account for at least 45% of the net gain of jobs since February 2013.

Over the past year, the Charlotte-Gastonia-Concord MSA had a net gain of 25,600, the Raleigh-Cary MSA had a net gain of 12,900 jobs and the Durham-Chapel Hill MSA had a gain of 2,600.

Michael Walden, an economics professor at N.C. State University, predicted the “unemployment rate in both the state and nation will increase in a range of 0.3 to 0.5 percentage points” related to COVID-19.

Patrick McHugh, senior policy analyst with left-leaning N.C. Budget & Tax Center, said he’s “worried about what we’re going to see happen over the next few months when millions of North Carolinians are currently holding on by an economic thread.”

rcraver@wsjournal.com

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@rcraverWSJ

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