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Despite all the claims we keep hearing about the state’s supposedly miraculous economic recovery, too many regions across the state are still waiting for the recovery to happen.  The latest issue of Prosperity Watch digs into unemployment and job creation trends in the state’s metro areas and finds that the decrease in unemployment over the last year is almost entirely due to unprecedented drops in the labor force, not to the jobless moving into employment. See the latest issue for details.

An oversight committee at the General Assembly splashed more cold water on claims that policy decisions made in the 2013 legislative session are responsible for big improvements in the state’s economy.

In testimony before the Joint Legislative Oversight Committee on Unemployment Insurance Wednesday, N.C. State economist Dr. Michael Walden made the crucial point that North Carolina’s economic recovery began in 2009—long before 2013—and is largely shaped by broader national and global economic trends beyond the influence of the state’s policy makers.

According to Walden, North Carolina’s experience of business cycles has often been bumpier than the nation’s—with faster growth in recoveries and steeper falls during recessions. Over the past two business cycles, the Tarheel State saw bigger percentage job losses than did the nation as a whole during recessionary periods. As a result, the state’s employment growth since the recession ended in 2009 is still insufficient to deliver the jobs needed to provide everyone a job who is seeking work and close the state’s jobs deficit—despite seeing employment grow at a faster rate than the average.

Taken together with the fact that North Carolina created fewer jobs in 2013 than it did the year before, according to preliminary estimates from the establishment survey, these trends make it clear that the current economic recovery is neither all that special, nor can employment growth be linked to policies enacted last year.

And while the state’s labor market is clearly moving in the right direction, recent improvements are still not enough to return employment to pre-recession levels. In fact, at the current rate of job creation holding all else constant, it will take 13 years to replace the jobs lost during the Great Recession and keep up with population growth.

Given this reality, it’s clear that policy makers are just plain wrong when they claim that the policies they enacted in 2013 are responsible for an economic turnaround in North Carolina.

In good news on the government accountability front this week, Governor McCrory and Commerce Secretary Decker put the brakes on privatizing the state’s economic development efforts, postponing the creation of the new nonprofit development corporation until the start of the new fiscal year in July. Ostensibly, the move is intended to make sure the transition to this new public-private partnership goes as smoothly as possible, given the catastrophic mistakes and complete lack of accountability suffered by other states when trying this approach. And the legislature would like to weigh in as well, given that the authorizing bill for all this never passed last year.

So it’s worth taking advantage of this pause in the rush to privatization to ensure that the state’s economic development efforts remain both effective and accountable. Fortunately, North Carolina has a long tradition of accountability in business development, a point made in a well-timed study released this week by national economic development watchdog Good Jobs First, and this is a tradition the state should continue.

According to the report, the Tarheel State has the third best accountability system in the country in terms of monitoring and disclosing whether companies live up to their promises of job creation.

This is a tradition that the state needs to continue and extend to the activities of the new development corporation, including the private sector donors and the proposed closing fund.

 

Governor McCrory’s Economic Development Board released it’s long-awaited strategic plan for the state’s economic development efforts this afternoon. Here is the Budget and Tax Center statement in response:

We all want to create jobs and grow an economy that works for everyone in North Carolina, and the best way to make sure that happens is to focus on raising family incomes after a decade of decline. While the Governor’s plan includes a number of useful proposals, there is an important contradiction between the plan’s call for additional tax cuts and the resources necessary to achieve the goals related to workforce development, innovation/entrepreneurship, and rural prosperity. These goals will be impossible unless the state provides adequate investment in higher education, community colleges, and rural community development initiatives. Funding for these initiatives are already well below where they were before the recession started in 2008, so it’s unlikely the state will be able to make significant progress on achieving these goals given the steep revenue losses resulting from last year’s tax cuts and any future round of tax reductions.

 

It’s the myth that will not die.

In the ongoing debate over the impact of last year’s draconian cuts to unemployment benefits, we keep hearing the story that reducing benefits for the jobless has helped reduce the unemployment rate.

If only this were true.

While the unemployment rate has undoubtedly fallen, this is because unemployed workers have simply fallen out of the labor force, rather than moving into employment—a trend the unemployment rate simply doesn’t take into account. Just this point was made yesterday in a New York Times piece by Annie Lowrey profiling North Carolina’s economy, which noted that for every unemployed person who moved into employment, another two unemployed people gave up looking for work and dropped out of the labor force altogether.

In fact, the state’s labor force contracted more than 2.5 percent in 2013 at the same time that the state’s population grew by almost 1 percent.  And anytime the labor force shrinks while the population grows, the economy is moving in the wrong direction.

If the Times piece gets it right about the connection between unemployment benefit cuts and the shrinking labor force, it is a bit too trusting of Governor McCrory’s claims that his plan helped boost job creation in the state.

Perhaps Ms. Lowrey should have noted Ned Barnett’s important point from last week—by any measure, employment growth in 2013 was the weakest of any year since the end of the recession. North Carolina created just 37,700 jobs from January to November last year, almost half the 66,000 jobs created over the same period in 2012 and still short of the jobs created in 2011 and 2010. At the rate of employment growth achieved in 2013, it will take another 13 years for the state to create enough jobs to replace all those lost during the recession and keep up with population growth.

If Governor McCrory was correct that cutting unemployment benefits forced unemployed workers to find work, then we would expect to see unemployed workers moving into employment. But we don’t—we actually see the opposite.  There were actually 9,000 fewer people employed in November than in January—again, the worst performance since 2010. This means that unemployed people aren’t moving into jobs, they’re just dropping out of the labor force altogether.

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