Commentary, NC Budget and Tax Center

Unbalanced 2016 did little to even the economic score

You’re not imagining it, 2016 was an unbalanced economic year. The national economy had one of its best years in the last decade, and some parts of North Carolina significantly outpaced the nation, but many communities were left further behind. 

(To view charts that summarize last year’s economic record, and to make commitments for the current trip around the sun, visit our 2017 Resolution page.)

Over half of North Carolina’s counties have not recovered to pre-recession employment levels.
While many parts of the state have finally surpassed pre-recession employment levels, 52 of North Carolina’s counties still have fewer jobs than before the Great Recession took hold. Nine North Carolina counties actually lost jobs during from November 2015 through last month, a particular worry given that 2016 saw decent growth nationwide.

One-third of North Carolina’s counties failed to keep pace with the national economy. Employment nationwide expanded by around 1.7% over the last year, healthy growth to be sure but not setting any records either. In spite of consistent assertions that North Carolina’s economy was one of the strongest in the nation, 35 of North Carolina’s counties lost ground compared to the national average, and nearly one in five counties saw less than 1% job growth over the year ending in November 2016. With so many communities posting meager job gains, even during a decent economic year nationally, it is clear that we have not done enough to ensure that our economy is working for everyone.

Economic distress is not limited to rural communities. Many metropolitan areas also slogged through an uneven economic year that did not see enough growth to deliver broad-based prosperity. Unemployment rates were generally down during 2016, but the growth still left far too many North Carolinians looking for work. In fact, there are more people looking for work now than the before the recession in 12 of North Carolina’s metropolitan areas.

We should reflect on 2016 with an eye to why access to prosperity was so uneven, and face 2017 with the resolve to build an economy that works for more communities and more families.

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