NC Budget and Tax Center

Jobless workers and their communities still hurting under unemployment insurance changes

The Unemployment Insurance Oversight Committee is set to meet on Wednesday to discuss the state’s unemployment insurance system.  It is unclear what will be discussed as of today but let’s hope North Carolina’s leaders spend time considering just how poorly the system is working for jobless workers and their communities.

The latest available data from the US Department of Labor provides benchmarks on key standards that the system should meet in providing a temporary, partial wage replacement to those who lose their job through no fault of their own.  The goal of the program is to stabilize these jobless workers spending in the broader economy while they look for new work and ensure that busiensses aren’t hit by the impacts of low demand for their goods and services.

Here are the lowlights for North Carolina’s system:

  • Just one in 10 jobless workers received unemployment insurance in the Second Quarter of 2016, ranking North Carolina last in the country. Prior to changes North Carolina ranked 24th.
  • The average duration of unemployment insurance is just 10 weeks, ranking North Carolina last in the country. Prior to changes North Carolina ranked 31st.
  • The average weekly benefit amount of $241 leaves jobless workers with too little wage replacement to keep up with the basic costs of living and ranks North Carolina 46th in the country. Prior to changes North Carolina ranked 25th.

North Carolina’s unemployment insurance now reaches too few jobless workers for too short a time period and provides too little in payments to stabilize their spending in the economy. In communities facing persistently high joblessness and too few job openings as well as though facing mass layoffs. The failings of today’s unemployment insurance are all too real and the reach of its harm extend beyond those immediately affected to all of us.

Let’s hope these issues get discussed by leaders on Wednesday. Policymakers should choose to fix the state’s unemployment insurance so that it works for jobless workers and communities.

NC Budget and Tax Center

New research points to critical role of unemployment insurance in lessening hardship from job loss

JP Morgan Chase has a study out that shows the powerful role of unemployment insurance based on a review of a unique dataset:  their customers’ financial behavior.  The findings are particularly telling for North Carolina where policymakers have moved in the opposite direction of modernizing the system, dismantling many of the best practices the state had in place when they overhauled unemployment insurance in 2013 (and many that the JP Morgan Chase study highlight as important).

As we have written about in many other spaces, the result of such changes in North Carolina has been an unemployment insurance system that is providing too little support for too few weeks to too few of the state’s jobless workers.

The JP Morgan Chase study is important to providing further evidence that job loss without unemployment insurance takes a greater toll on consumer spending—the key to America’s economic engine.  Here are key findings:

  • Unemployment insurance softens the drop in family income from job loss to just a 16 percent drop compared to a 46 percent drop in monthly income without unemployment insurance.
  • The higher wage replacement that a state provides through unemployment insurance the lower the drop in spending. Unemployment insurance payments reduce the spending drop associated with job loss by 74 percent.

Read more

NC Budget and Tax Center

Raleigh, we have a problem

There are some who are championing the latest data from the US Census Bureau as further evidence of some unique experience in North Carolina driven by policy changes that dismantled and restricted many of our best income- and economy-boosting tools.

The John Locke Foundation erroneously claimed that North Carolina had the fastest growing median household income in the country this week from 2013 to 2015 using the survey not designed anymore to answer over time questions.  The data from the U.S. Census best suited to the question at hand actually shows that North Carolina’s median household income grew at the third slowest rate over the period cited by the Locke Foundation.  That rate 2.4 percent for NC was half the rate of the national average (4.9 percent).  Those data are more in keeping with the experience of the many North Carolinians who everyday still aren’t feeling the benefits of the national recovery.

And of course the claim that there would be some connection between economic outcomes and the policy choices made by the Governor or General Assembly—which has never been supported by any rigorous tests of a causal relationship—received an additional blow this week.  The same Census data release demonstrated many of the very tools—EITCs, unemployment insurance, food assistance—eliminated or reduced by elected leaders have effectively lifted millions out of poverty across the country.

Those touting the policy changes made by the Governor and the General Assembly as causing an economic improvement that hasn’t reached many often select years to make their case that tell us little about whether we have made progress from the lowest point in the recession or since the expansion began.

In doing so, they can show improvements that are important but not sufficient to undo the damage of years of recessionary conditions or capable of setting the state on the trajectory needed to capitalize on the national expansion.

But again, North Carolina is not leading on the critical measures of wages and income even under these time periods. Looking at the period since 2012, North Carolina’s median household income has grown by 2.6 percent, half the national growth rate—a pattern that continues if you move the year forward to 2013 as noted above.  In fact, North Carolina had the slowest meaningful growth in median household income over the period 2012 to 2015 and third slowest since 2013 when the national economic expansion appears to have taken hold.

So here are the data on median household income for North Carolina:

  • When compared to other states, North Carolina ranks 41st for its median household income level of $47,830 in 2015.
  • North Carolina’s median household income is roughly $3,200 lower than it was in 2007 when adjusting for the rising costs of goods and services.

The failure of the income of the median NC household to fully recover means that households can’t cover a very modest household budget for a family of four for an entire month in a year.  More than likely it means that throughout the year households are curtailing their spending, taking on more debt, working more hours and dipping into savings that are supposed to build assets and that hurts the broader economy and us all.

A renewed focus on what the Census Bureau data shows us works to lift Americans out of poverty and deliver strong income gains should be the top priority in North Carolina.

NC Budget and Tax Center, Uncategorized

Bipartisan agreement to address persistent poverty

The persistence of poverty in certain regions and communities across the country and within North Carolina has long held back the broader economy from performing at full capacity and delivering the greatest benefit to the most people.  In North Carolina, there are still 10 counties where poverty rates have remained above 20 percent for more than three decades.

That is why the emerging bipartisan consensus on setting a reasonable target to direct federal funds to these communities is encouraging.  The plan states that at least 10 percent of a federal program’s funds should go to counties where at least 20 percent of the population has lived in poverty for at least 30 years.  In the upcoming months, there may be several opportunities for the plan to be incorporated into the guidelines for funding the federal government.  In the meantime, from this Politico article, it is clear that a broad swath of the country could stand to benefit and that those affected by persistent poverty are diverse.

Nearly 500 counties across the United States suffer from the kind of persistent poverty that would make them eligible for the plan’s targeted funding, [Representative] Clyburn says — and it would give more Republican lawmakers something to brag about to constituents than Democrats. In 2009, Clyburn likes to note, 84 Republicans represented those counties, compared with 43 Democrats. The GOP held 311 counties and Democrats represented 149. (In terms of total population, the parties were more evenly split, with Republicans representing 8.3 million people from those counties and Democrats representing 8.8 million; another 14 counties with 5.3 million people were split between Republicans and Democrats.)

NC Budget and Tax Center

Three key points in assessing the Carolina Comeback

Our annual State of Working North Carolina report will be out next week and detail the ways in which the national recovery has yet to reach all North Carolinians and every North Carolina community. In the meantime, a debate playing out on the pages of the News & Observer deserves attention today

As Labor Day approaches, it is clear that a more careful consideration of the state’s economic well-being is needed instead of declarations of a “Carolina Comeback.”

Let’s be clear: There is nothing partisan about reviewing the data and considering whether the state is experiencing a strong recovery.  North Carolinians deserve an accurate accounting of how the economy is doing and where policy choices have fallen short of supporting better outcomes.

There is no debating that the state has seen employment growth, that wages appear finally to be growing, and that productivity (aka GDP) is on the rise. The latter is a fundamental requirement of an economic expansion (at least nationally) and the growth in jobs and wages should follow suit now that we are seven years past the start of the national recovery.

The issue is not whether these things are happening, but whether they have met our expectations for what an expansion should look like. When looking at the numbers relative to our neighbors, our nation and even our past performance, the current national economic recovery is failing to live up to expectations and our state’s great potential.

Here are some key data points that should be front and center when claims of the state’s robust recovery are cited. Read more