For all of the positive growth numbers touted at the statewide level in the last year, the recovery ranges from partial to virtually nonexistent in many parts of the state. The headline unemployment rate dropped for most counties between February 2014 and this year, but unfortunately that is not a sign that all in well. As can be seen when you look at the current labor market conditions and how counties stack up to where they were before the recession, there are many communities where employment is still below pre-recession levels, some communities that actually lost jobs during the last year, and people looking for work outnumber job openings in most counties.
Most counties have not returned to pre-recession levels of employment. While the last few years have seen the state make some good economic strides as the national economy has continued to improve, it has not done enough to get most communities back to the level of vitality that existed before the Great recession. The majority of counties in North Carolina (70 out of 100), had fewer jobs in February 2015 than they did in 2007. In fact, the unemployment rate is still higher now than it was in 2007 in more than 80 counties across the state.
Unemployed people outnumber job openings in almost every county. Only 8 counties in North Carolina have at least as many job openings as unemployed people. Many counties have 2 or 3 unemployed people for every job opening, and in some counties there are as many as 5 or 6 unemployed people competing for every job. The number of people who are looking for work did come down in most counties from February 2014 through this year, but there are still far more people looking for work than there are jobs. In fact, roughly three-quarters of the counties had more people looking for work in February of this year than they did in 2007. There are still too few jobs for those who want to work which not impacts jobless workers but everyone as employers aren’t compelled to provide wage increases to keep or attract talent.
Many counties took a step back over the last year. While it is cause for pause that most counties have not returned to pre-recession levels of employment, the fact that almost half of the counties (47) lost employment from February of 2014 to February of 2015 is cause for a full-on double-take. 2014 was the strongest year for job creation since the start of the Great Recession, yet nearly half of the counties lost jobs during that time. That’s an extremely alarming sign. It is natural to expect some counties to grow faster than others, but a truly strong growth period should not be leaving so much of the state worse off.
All told, the February county labor market data show that North Carolina is not uniformly on the road to prosperity. There are pockets of very strong growth in and around the major metropolitan areas, but the labor market outside of the urban centers is much weaker. As the General Assembly talks about another round of tax cuts, and spending more on incentives, remember that these have been the proposed answers for several years, and they have not delivered the goods for many communities in our state.