Commentary, NC Budget and Tax Center

New state labor data: In NC, the COVID recession is over for some, but not for many others

The COVID-19 recession is over for a lot of highly paid North Carolinians, but the situation remains dire for low income workers. That’s the assessment of N.C. Budget & Tax Center economist Patrick McHugh. This is from a news release distributed today by the group:

State labor market data released today show the recovery continued to limp through October at nowhere near the rate needed to help families in the greatest need. While the recession is largely over for most highly paid North Carolinians, low-wage jobs across our state have been devastated.

“Even before COVID-19 cases shot up over the past several weeks, the recovery had slowed to a snail’s pace, particularly for low-income working people who are running out of options to get by,” said Patrick McHugh, Research Manager with the North Carolina Budget & Tax Center. “The U.S. Senate needs to get off the sidelines and actually do something meaningful to help North Carolinians who are bearing the brunt of the job losses.”

Click for charts with new labor market data.

Economic challenges facing North Carolina include:

  • The recovery has slowed dramatically in recent months: After recovering over 230,000 jobs in May and June, North Carolina has only added roughly half that number of jobs in the past four months combined. All told, over 40 percent of the jobs lost since the start of the recession have not been recovered and North Carolina still needs to add more than 265,000 jobs to get back to where we were before COVID-19.
  • Still a historically low share of North Carolinians are working: 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. Only 55.2 percent of North Carolinians were working in October, down from over 59 percent before the COVID-19 outbreak and far below levels that were common throughout most of the 1990s and 2000s.
  • Recession is over for most highly paid North Carolinians while still devastating low income workers. While not captured in the headline unemployment figures, job losses have fallen the hardest on North Carolinians with the least financial cushion. Data through the end of September indicate the recession was effectively already over for North Carolinians who are paid over $60,000, while nearly 1 in 5 jobs which pay under $27,000 are still missing.

For charts showing the most recent labor data and COVID-19 job data, visit the Budget & Tax Center’s Labor Market page at

Note: the Budget & Tax Center is a project of the NC Justice Center, parent organization to NC Policy Watch.

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