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Apr 21, 11:29 AM EDT

North Carolina's March unemployment rate inches up



RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) -- North Carolina's jobless rate has inched up from the prior two months, according to figures released Tuesday.

The North Carolina Department of Commerce said the state's unemployment rate was 5.4 percent in March. The rates for February and January were 5.3 percent.

The state says that while 26,000 people landed jobs in the month - raising the number of employed workers to nearly 4.5 million - the number of unemployed also increased by nearly 6,000.

John Bethune, a professor of business at Barton College in Wilson, said the slight uptick in the jobless rate isn't necessarily worrisome.

"I see it as fairly insignificant. If you look at it over a year, we've had it trending downward," he said.

North Carolina's jobless rate has gradually dropped over the past year from 6.5 percent in February 2014.

The new numbers show more people are getting jobs or looking for them, boosting the state's labor force, which is a good sign, Bethune said.

"Over the past several years, we've had a real problem with the decline in labor force participation. And now it seems like that decline's abated," he said.

North Carolina's rate stayed below the national figure, which was 5.5 percent for a second month.

For more than six years after the Great Recession started, North Carolina had a consistently higher unemployment rate than the national average until the middle of last year. Since then, the state's jobless rate has generally been lower than the national average.

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