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

In research rPlaceMatterseleased last year, the UNC Center for Civil Rights builds a compelling case for how our built environment truly reflects (or doesn’t) equality of opportunity in North Carolina, particularly for communities of color.

North Carolinians have long recognized the geographic constraints to opportunity in discussions of the persistent poverty of the East, the tremendous job loss in the Piedmont and the infrastructure needs in the Mountains.  And yet, our commitment to place-based strategies has waned over the years and particularly dropped off last year with the elimination of economic development funding and targeting of community development dollars to high-need communities.  It is also the case, as the research from UNC Center for Civil Rights suggests, that a much more fine-grained approach to place and opportunity is needed: one that looks at the neighborhood level not just the region or county.

The returns to investment in taking a place-based approach have the potential to be great.  Place has a determining effect on individual’s health, educational opportunities and lifetime earnings.

If place matters, what our local residents, leaders and state government are doing to address disparities across neighborhoods, communities and regions is critical.  In a series of blog posts over the next few months, we will highlight the data on exclusion in our communities and the solutions that are being pursued locally, often without much fanfare but with great effect.

Our aim is to make clear that if North Carolina is to be competitive nationally and globally, it must reduce the difference in opportunity and outcomes by zip code.

In case your News & Observer didn’t arrive at your doorstep or got buried in the snow last Thursday, be sure to check out John Quinterno and Dean Baker’s take on the false claims about a Carolina Comeback.  In detail, they lay out just why the idea that unemployment insurance cuts have led to an improved economic picture for North Carolina’s economy has no support in the data.

It’s true that the statewide unemployment rate has in fact fallen sharply since the cuts were implemented, dropping from 8.8 percent in June to 6.9 percent in December.

The drop, however, did not come about because people rushed out and found jobs. Employment as measured by the household survey used to determine the unemployment rate rose by 41,364 persons (1 percent) between June and December, far too little to explain the sharp drop in the unemployment rate. According to the household survey, only 13,414 more persons (0.3 percent) were at work in December 2013 compared with a year earlier.

If people weren’t finding jobs, why did the unemployment rate fall? It turns out that the legislature’s prescription for lowering the unemployment rate worked through a different channel. Nearly 52,000 people were reported as “leaving the labor force” between June and December, meaning that they were no longer employed nor actively seeking work.

In fact, North Carolina ended 2013 with a labor force that had 111,000 fewer participants (-2.3 percent) than was the case a year earlier.