Earlier this week the Budget & Tax Center released an analysis of the economic and fiscal impacts of providing all drivers a license regardless of immigration status.  The findings suggest that more than 250,000 undocumented immigrants could be eligible for a license and their children too.  The net fiscal impact of issuing these licenses would be minimal, based on experiences in other states, and estimated revenue from fees could likely cover the cost of providing the licenses completely.

For years, North Carolina has been at the forefront of adopting measures that improve safety on the roads, from graduated driver’s licenses for first-time drivers to texting bans to strict requirements on the transportation of children. But one simple measure has been ignored: ensuring all drivers have a driver’s license, regardless of their immigration status.  In fact, since 2006, North Carolina has adopted more stringent identification requirements that effectively banned undocumented immigrants and others from obtaining a license.  This movement is in the opposite direction of the now 12 states that have expanded access to driver’s licenses recognizing the public safety benefits to having all drivers tested and insured.

Beyond providing greater assurance for all drivers that those on the road are tested, licensed and insured, driver’s licenses provide an important ability for workers to get to their jobs particularly as car travel is the dominant mode of transportation in North Carolina.  This increased mobility will likely lead to greater consumer spending, a more reliable workforce for employers, and a net benefit to the economy.

Yesterday, the Budget & Tax Center released a report on the number of North Carolinians who would have been working or seeking work if the Great Recession had never happened and job opportunities had remained strong over the last five years.  The report highlights using this new measure the troubling trend of too few jobs and workers leaving the labor force.  In addition, it pulls together compelling national research finding that most or all of the labor force decline is driven by a weak labor market.  Among the key findings:

  • 250,000 North Carolinians are missing from the labor force
  • If those missing workers were counted as unemployed, the unemployment rate would be nearly double the official rate for February 2014.

The report comes as national economists gathered this week to push for a full employment agenda, one that would seek to expand job opportunities and bring more folks into the labor market to support a stronger economic growth trajectory.  As attention nationally turns to the issue of persistent joblessness and the harm it is creating for workers and the economy, it is important for North Carolina’s policymakers to focus on good quality job creation and policies that support strong connections to the labor force for workers in a weak labor market.

This morning the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities in collaboration with leaders in the field of economics launched a push for a full employment agenda in America.  At the current moment when five years into the recovery there are still too few jobs for those who want to work, this effort couldn’t be more critical for the country and our own state of North Carolina.

So what would it mean to set as a goal full employment?  Full employment is generally described as the situation where the number of people seeking jobs and the number of employers seeking workers is closely matched.  The traditional trade-off economists focus on in discussions of full employment is the negative relationship with inflation.  But in practice, it is difficult to accurately pin down a level of unemployment that leads to rising inflation and there are tools available to allow the Federal Reserve to address inflation if it begins to tick up.

The benefits of full employment are too great to ignore.  A tight labor market pushes for more equitable distribution of growth, improves the connection to the labor market of workers and improves career trajectories.  Full employment is also connected to higher hourly wages and more work hours which is especially important as involuntary part-time work has grown.  It also has been demonstrated to improve fiscal accounts as revenues increase and expenditures on some safety net programs decline.

A full employment agenda requires federal and state policy action.  Among the policies that will be explored during today’s symposium are:

  • Stimulative fiscal policy
  • Lowering the trade deficit
  • Direct job creation
  • Worksharing
  • Manufacturing jobs
  • Apprenticeships and On-the-Job Training
  • Job quality

These concrete ideas for our economy, based in the best available evidence, provide an important re-orientation at a time when we are all seeking to improve the opportunities for working North Carolinians and Americans and grow our economy better into the future.

You can watch the launch of this event live here.

Among one of the more misguided notions in the debate over unemployment insurance is that any job is a good job and unemployed workers should take what they can get.  Not surprisingly, this isn’t only bad for workers but the economy as well particularly when there aren’t enough jobs to go around.

As part of the unemployment insurance changes that went into effect in July 2013, a new definition of “suitable work” was established.  By this definition, after 10 weeks of receiving unemployment insurance, someone would have to take any job that they are offered that pays 120 percent of their weekly unemployment insurance payment.  If they didn’t they would lose unemployment insurance.

Of course, in a labor market where there are 3 unemployed workers for every job opening, the chances of getting a job offer are slim.  And the reality is that many of the jobs that are being created pay less than the jobs that were lost.

So what does this “suitable work” provision mean to workers?  A jobless worker who is receiving the average weekly benefit amount of $245 would have to take any job that pays $15,288 a year.  That is well below the poverty threshold for a family of four and a quarter of what it actually takes to make ends meet in our state.  A jobless worker at the maximum benefit amount of $350 would make $21,840, still below the poverty threshold for a family of four. Read More

PlaceMattersThis blog post is part of a series called Place Matters and was written by Peter Gilbert, Equal Justice Fellow at UNC Center for Civil Rights

The previous post in this series, Place Matters, laid out the importance of place-based strategies to address inequality across North Carolina. Geographic solutions must be guided by precise data to target specific solutions to particular communities. The State of Exclusion report is a first step in using available statewide data to identify specific communities and the issues they face.

Racial housing segregation creates inequality in living conditions related to housing, like clean drinking water, the type and condition of homes, and exposure to pollution. Residential segregation also undermines equal access to education, public resources, and employment, and frustrates democracy at every level. Read More