RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) -- North Carolina's unemployment rate fell to 9.2 percent in March, its lowest level in more than a year, but other data in the monthly report by the state Commerce Department Friday signaled job prospects were barely improving.
The report's positives were that the unemployment rate dropped from 9.4 percent in February and that the number of people unemployed fell by nearly 12,000 between February and March. On the down side, nearly 11,000 fewer people held jobs than in February and about 22,500 workers were suddenly no longer working or looking for work.
North Carolina continued to have the country's fifth-highest unemployment rate in March.
"I think that things are not improving a lot," said Dora Gicheva, a University of North Carolina at Greensboro professor who studies labor markets. "Things are a still lot higher in North Carolina compared to the U.S."
The national unemployment rate fell to 7.6 percent in March from February's 7.7 percent.
The past year has seen the unemployment rate bob up and down in part because thousands of people are deciding to give up rather than keep competing for jobs, or retire early or go on disability if they qualify, Gicheva said.
"People are still becoming discouraged in the labor market," she said.
The monthly report also showed that 103,038 people claimed unemployment insurance payments in March, 6,584 fewer than the previous month. That and the drop in the number of workers employed and the total labor force suggests that thousands of people may had their jobless benefits expire, Gicheva said.
North Carolina has added 75,300 jobs in the past year, when the unemployment rate was 9.4 percent.
Emery Dalesio can be reached at http://twitter.com/emerydalesio.