COVID-19, NC Budget and Tax Center

Release: Latest labor market figures show devastating blow from COVID-19

The Budget & Tax Center, a project of the NC Justice Center, issued the following summary and assessment of North Carolina labor market data released today. From the media release:

RALEIGH (May 22, 2020) — Labor market data for N.C. released today show April was the worst month of job losses in North Carolina’s history, far surpassing the worst months of the Great Recession. “The scope of the job losses is simply staggering,” said Patrick McHugh, Research Manager with the North Carolina Budget & Tax Center. “Job losses are concentrated in industries and occupations that typically pay the worst wages so a lot of the people who lost jobs in April had little or no financial cushion to fall back on. Many of the jobs that have disappeared likely won’t be coming back anytime soon, which means state and federal leaders have to figure out a way to support people through an economic crisis unlike anything in living memory.”

Economic challenges facing North Carolina include:

  • Losses in April an order of magnitude worse than anything from the Great Recession: April erased over 570,000 jobs in North Carolina, a loss more than 10 times worse than January 2009, the heaviest single month of job losses during the Great Recession.
  • Unemployment claims show even wider harm than employment figures released to date: Nearly 1 million North Carolinians have filed Unemployment Insurance claims since March 15, when the COVID-19 outbreak began causing major job losses in North Carolina. That means almost 20% of the people working before the COVID-19 recession began have submitted unemployment insurance claims, the fastest mass loss of jobs on record.
  • Lowest paid North Carolinians experiencing the worst losses: Leisure and Hospitality alone accounted for over 40% of the jobs lost in April. Many of these jobs pay extremely low wages, so people in the worst financial shape before this crisis are experiencing a disproportionate share of the harm.
  • Economically struggling communities likely being impacted the worst: While local figures for April are not yet available, the pattern of losses suggest some of North Carolina’s most economically disadvantaged communities are bearing the brunt of the harm. Many of North Carolina’s small towns, rural communities, and low-income urban neighborhoods that never recovered from the Great Recession rely most heavily on industries experiencing some of the worst job losses.
  • Headline unemployment rate already higher than the worst of the Great Recession, and even that doesn’t fully show how bad things are: The headline unemployment rate jumped to more than 12% in April, already beyond the highest rate reached during the Great Recession. As bad as that is, it doesn’t fully reveal extent of the economic harm. The headline rate only captures people who are actively looking for work, so it won’t reveal the true extent of job and income losses for North Carolina families. Particularly during an event like this, when many people are being furloughed from work, are caring for children or other family members, or aren’t looking for work simply because there are no jobs to be found, the headline unemployment rate only reveals the tip of the iceberg.

For charts showing the most recent labor data and COVID-19 job data, visit the Budget & Tax Center’s Labor Market page at NCJustice.org/labormarket. For more context on the economic choices facing North Carolina, check out the Budget & Tax Center’s Prosperity Watch report.

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