Commentary

Positive spin about the NC economy is simply not borne out by the numbers (Updated)

Conservative think tankers and elected officials continue to make grand claims about a supposed “Carolina Comeback,” but as Dr. Patrick McHugh of the N.C. Budget and Tax Center explained in a release this afternoon, the numbers tell a different story:

North Carolina still not seeing people get back into the labor market
‘We keep hearing claims that North Carolina’s economy is the strongest in the nation, but that’s simply not true’

North Carolina has made virtually no progress over the past three years in increasing the percentage of people in the labor market, and its economy doesn’t even make the top 10 nationally, despite an above-average performance across much of the Southeast.

“We keep hearing claims that North Carolina’s economy is the strongest in the nation, but that’s simply not true,” said Patrick McHugh, a Budget & Tax Center Policy Analyst at the NC Justice Center. “Since this time last year, most of our neighbors in the South have matched or exceeded North Carolina’s pace of job creation, and we are still well below historical levels of employment.”

A lack of truly robust job growth continues to leave many North Carolinians behind. The state has made no progress in helping the percentage of North Carolinians in the labor market increase over the past three years, and it remains far below the level of labor force participation that was the norm before the Great Recession. Part of the decline in the unemployment rate over the past several months is actually due to a dip in the share of North Carolinians who are actively looking for work, so the headline unemployment rate doesn’t actually tell the whole story.

Other key findings from the labor market release include:

  • North Carolina pay remains below the national average: The average weekly paycheck in North Carolina came in roughly $80 below the national average. While wages in North Carolina have historically been below the nation, the gap today is substantially larger than it was before the Great Recession.
  • Far too many North Carolinians still cannot find work: There were over 225,000 North Carolinians looking for work last month.
  • The state is not making progress in getting people back into the labor market: Labor force participation (the share of North Carolinians who are working or actively looking for a job) remains well below historical norms and has made no net progress over the last several years. July figures show that approximately 61 percent of North Carolinians were employed or looking for work, which is where we stood at this point in 2013. By comparison, labor force participation was above 65 percent from 2000 up through the onset of the Great Recession.

Nor do the administration’s employment figures account for the nearly 2,100 jobs that are scheduled to be eliminated over the next two months. Those numbers come from monthly WARN notices issued by the N.C. Department of Commerce.

And the total number of reported job cuts through Aug. 8 – 9,938 – is the largest number of any entire year’s total since 2013, according to WARN data.

In 2015, 5,855 employees were laid off.

In 2014, that figure was 8,686.

And in 2013, 9,869 workers lost their jobs through layoffs.

Businesses that employ at least 100 workers are required to file a WARN notice if they are preparing to  close a plant that affects at least 50 employees during any 30-day period. This excludes those who work less than 20 hours a week or have worked less than six months in the last year.

Mass layoffs are also subject to WARN notices: 500 employees or 50-499 employees if they make up at least one-third of the workforce.

The bottom line: Conservatives will no doubt keep attempting to spin and put the best face they can on North Carolina’s frayed and increasingly divided economy, but the hard data and facts on the ground tell a much different story and will continue to speak for themselves.

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