NC Budget and Tax Center

North Carolina losing ground in the effort to strengthen the economy

The August labor market data released this morning show North Carolina is failing to hit key markers of a strong economic recovery.

The unemployment rate remained steady at 5.9 percent in August, 0.1 percentage points below where the state unemployment rate was one year ago. The state experienced a slower decline than the nation, with a 0.4 percentage point drop.

Importantly, the unemployment rate does not capture the people remaining outside of the labor market due to a lack of employment opportunities. The state’s unemployment rate would be higher than 10 percent if one considers these missing workers.

A deeper assessment of the labor market trends beyond the unemployment rate in the August data include:

  • 2015 has not delivered robust job growth in North Carolina: Since January 2015, North Carolina has seen jobs grow by 1.3 percent while the nation has experienced job growth of 1.1 percent. Job growth, compared to similar points out from prior recessions, is lackluster at 2.2 percent compared to 18.8 percent since the start of the 1980 recession and 27.5 percent for the 1981 recession.
  • Given debate over the final budget and the state’s commitment to ensuring state workers are paid at a level that can help them meet rising costs and boost the economy, it is important to note that state government employment remains depressed. There have been 23,000 state and local government jobs lost since the peak. Public sector employment has also failed to keep up with the growing state population, creating capacity challenges in many core public services.
  • Still more North Carolinians out of work than before the Great Recession: Even though the ranks of the unemployed have declined over the past year, there are still more than 280,000 North Carolinians looking for work, approximately 66,000 more than before the Great Recession.
  • Percent of North Carolinians employed still near historic lows: August numbers showed 57.6 percent of North Carolinians were employed. This leaves North Carolina well below the level of employment commonplace before the Great Recession. In the mid-2000s, employment levels reached a peak of about 63 percent. The percent of North Carolinians with a job remains below the national average, as it has been since the Great Recession.
  • Labor force participation grows, but still below pre-recession norms: The size of the labor force, a measure of people who are employed or are looking for work, grew by nearly 3 percent over the year. While this is a good sign that some workers are returning to the labor force, the share of North Carolinians who are employed or looking for work is still more than 4 percent lower than before the Great Recession.

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