Missing Workers, NC Budget and Tax Center

The official unemployment rate ticked down in September slightly to 6.7 percent but if you count the number of workers missing from the labor force–those who would be looking for work if employment opportunities were stronger–that rate would be 12.8 percent.

As Patrick Conway, an economist at UNC Chapel Hill, shared in the News & Observer this week, the untold story of the state’s labor market is the story of these missing workers and the inefficiency in the economy that must be addressed when the state does not ensure those who want to work have job opportunities.

Our September update to the number of missing workers in North Carolina demonstrates the failure of the unemployment rate alone to signal this very real problem in the labor market and the need for sound public policy responsesMissing Workers September 2014.

 

2015 Fiscal Year State Budget, NC Budget and Tax Center

Numerous researchers have pointed to the benefits of a strong public university system. First and foremost, we often think of the individual benefits of providing an affordable education to the state’s citizens so that more can join the middle class. North Carolina took this role so seriously for its public university system that the idea of an education that is “free as far as practicable” is inscribed in the state constitution. But there are other broader benefits of a public university system that are equally important: universities serve as a hub for research & development that can spark private sector innovation and improve the quality of life for millions, they also support community economic development by serving as an anchor around which private and public investments can take hold and revitalization can be planned.

Some have said that the successive cuts to the UNC system have had no measurable impact on the quality of its education or its ability to serve these additional goals of supporting local economies. The reality, however, is that the state’s investment continues to remain far below pre-recession levels by 9.4 percent. Since the recession ended, lawmakers have ordered the Board of Governor to cut $1.1 billion through management flexibility, nearly equivalent to the operating state budget of the entire community college system. And North Carolina is one of just four states that made additional cuts to higher education this year, while other states began to reverse cuts made during and after the recession. The reductions to the UNC system have had an immediate harmful impact and will hamper the state’s future economic potential.

Here are three reasons why continued cuts to the UNC system will harm us all. Read More

NC Budget and Tax Center, Poverty and Income Data 2013

The latest data on poverty released by the U.S. Census Bureau last week confirms that work does not inoculate adults from experiencing poverty. One in three workers in North Carolina earned poverty wages, up from a low of 24 percent in 2002. The proliferation of low-wage jobs not only makes it difficult for workers to support themselves and their families but it puts a drag on the entire economy by depressing consumer spending.

The poverty threshold for a family of four in 2013 was $23,834. A full-time, year-round worker would need to earn an hourly wage of $11.46 to reach that level. That is well above the current federal and North Carolina minimum wage of $7.25 as well as higher than the proposed increase in the federal minimum wage to $10.10. And yet, low wage workers play key roles in the lives of our communities: they are home health aides who care for our parents or child care providers who are entrusted with the care of our children or bus drivers who get us safely to work each day.

In the increasingly prominent public debate about the falling wages of workers and the failure of the wage standards to ensure work pays, this latest data provides further evidence that workers are not only struggling but that it doesn’t have to be this way.

The trend data show that progrWorkers and Povertyess was made in the state for workers over the past thirty years but has been reversed more recently. North Carolina actually performed better relative to the rest of the nation through the 1980s and 1990s seeing a rapid decline in its poverty rate for workers over that period–an actual reduction from the high of 44 percent of workers earning poverty-wages in 1983. This faster decline is largely attributable to the state’s stronger employment opportunities than the nation in middle-wage industries like manufacturing and construction during that period as well as lower income inequality.

Beginning in the 2000s, those gains were lost as North Carolina began to see an increase in the number of workers earning poverty-wages. Contributing factors to this trend are likely the significant job loss in manufacturing and construction, the fallout of two successive national recessions and the significant growth of low-wage work since 2009. As of 2013, the share of North Carolina’s workers earning poverty wages was four percentage points above the national average.

When workers earn poverty wages, the entire economy struggles as does the broader community. That is because as workers struggle to meet their family’s most basic needs, they are less able to consume on main streets or pay their rent or mortgage. Workers who work hard yet earn poverty wages seek out other ways to bridge the gap in their income whether that be through taking on additional jobs, reducing their time to support their children’s development and their family’s well-being, incurring significant debt through the use of credit or informal loans to make needed payments, or seeking out resources or support from private charities or public programs. The result is an economy that fails to ensure work pays and can support strong local economies through vibrant main streets and stable families.

This is the seventh post in a series that takes a detailed look at the 2013 US Census Bureau poverty data released on September 18th. Previous posts examined: 1) how North Carolina is faring overall; 2) how poverty varies by race, 3) poverty by County; 4) child poverty; 5) the impact, or lack thereof, of the current economic recovery on poverty in our state and 6) the public success of Social Security in bringing down poverty rates for older North Carolinians. Read the entire series here.

NC Budget and Tax Center, Poverty and Income Data 2013

The connection between economic recoveries and declining economic hardship is often assumed and yet it is no longer necessarily the case in reality. While poverty rates have traditionally moved in tandem with economic variables that often signal an economic recovery—job creation, declines in unemployment rates and adequate investments in anti-poverty strategies—the recoveries from the most recent downturns have not reduced poverty quickly and significantly.

Data from the country as a whole analyzed by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities provides even greater historical context for the national picture showing that poverty rates fell within one to two years from the start of official national economic recoveries in the 1960s and 1970s. In more recent recoveries, it has taken four to five years for the poverty rate to fall. The data released last week showed the first statistically significant decline in the poverty rate for the country four years into the current recovery.

At Prosperity Watch this week, we documented the trends in North Carolina regarding recoveries and poverty rates. In the 2000s, the poverty rate failed to fall despite the official recovery that began in 2001 before the onset of the Great Recession. The recovery that began in 2009 has yet to significantly bring down the state’s poverty rate which last week we learned remained at 17.9 percent.

The disconnect between economic expansions and declining poverty is further evidence of a broken economic model in which the benefits of growth are not broadly shared. It is a clarion call for public policies to bind together once again improved economic performance and greater economic security.

This is the fifth post in a series that takes a detailed look at the 2013 US Census Bureau poverty data released on September 18th. The first post looked at how North Carolina is faring overall. The second post looked at how poverty varies by race, and the third post compared poverty by counties in North Carolina. The fourth post looked at child poverty. Read the entire series here.

Missing Workers, NC Budget and Tax Center, Uncategorized

The official unemployment rate ticked up in August to 6.8 percent but if you count those missing workers who would be in the labor market if job opportunities were stronger that rate would be 12. 6 percent.

Our update to the number of missing workers in North Carolina reflects the ongoing challenge for workers when there are too few jobs for those who want to work. It also demonstrates the failure of the unemployment rate alone to tell the story of what is happening in the state’s labor market.

The number of missing workers at Missing Workers August 2014the state level is calculated based on expected labor force participation rates while accounting for demographic trends like an aging population. As an indicator, the number of missing workers and an unemployment rate that accounts for them provides information about how far the current labor market is from meeting all the needs of workers in the economy.

North Carolina’s recovery will continue to struggle to deliver benefits broadly as long as so many workers remain missing from the labor force because there are too few jobs.