North Carolina’s unemployment rate dropped to 6.7 percent in January, but the decline is largely because the labor force continues to shrink not because of significant gains in employment, according to the NC Budget & Tax Center.  Over the last year, the state labor force contracted by 105,600 workers, more than 1.3 percent, to the lowest levels in three years.

“Only 4 out of every 10 unemployed workers found jobs in the last year,” said Allan Freyer, BTC Public Policy Analyst. “If North Carolina is going to see a healthy long-term recovery in employment growth, we need to see all jobless workers moving into jobs, rather than out of the labor force.”

Freyer believes that most of the job growth we’re seeing in North Carolina is due to improvements in the national economy, rather than something special happening in the Tarheel State:

“In recent months, we’ve heard claims that policies enacted in the first half of 2013 generated extra special job growth in the second half of 2013. But the reality is far different,” Freyer said. “Across every meaningful measure of labor market progress, the second half of 2013 failed to perform better than the second half of 2012.”

Freyer appeared on NC Policy Watch’s News & Views over the weekend to discuss the state’s struggling economy. For an excerpt of that radio interview, click below. You can listen to the full segment here.

The Budget & Tax Center’s takeaway message on the latest jobs report: North Carolina needs to create jobs at a much faster rate than the national average and its own recent historical performance.  Along with creating more jobs overall, the state needs to create better jobs that pay enough to allow workers and their families to make ends meet.

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A Wake County Superior Court  judge has  granted a preliminary injunction that  requires the North Carolina Division of Employment Security (DES)  to continue making hearing notices about contested unemployment claims available as it has done for the past decade.

The case pitted Durham attorney Monica Wilson against Dale Folwell, head of the state Division of Employment Security. Last month, Folwell abruptly advised attorneys that after February 28 they would no longer be able to pick up the hearing notices on a daily basis. Instead, notices would be mailed out three times a month at a cost of $600 per month, which was twice the amount the agency previously charged.

Judge Paul Ridgeway ruled Thursday:
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Click here to read the full preliminary injunction. For more background on this story, read Policy Watch reporter Sharon McCloskey’s piece from earlier this week Gaming the system at the Division of Employment Security.

The latest numbers from Public Policy Polling indicate only 30% of voters approve of the way Governor Pat McCrory has handled North Carolina’s coal ash problems, compared to 44% who disapprove.

Frank Holleman, a senior attorney with the Southern Environmental Law Center, says North Carolinians should be frustrated by the mixed messages and slow response from the McCrory administration in addressing the Dan River disaster and the safe storage of toxic ash at 14 other coal-fired power plants across North Carolina.

Gov. Pat McCrory has said that he wants Duke Energy to move its ash ponds away from drinking-water sources. But state environmental Sec. John Skvarla suggested last month that requiring Duke to move its coal ash away from North Carolina’s waterways might actually do more harm than good.

“Until the governor’s own appointee begins to carry out the words that the governor has been speaking,  I think all of our citizens have to question whether the governor really means what he’s saying,” said Holleman this week in an interview with NC Policy Watch.

Just this week, the governor avoided questions about whether his former employer should pay for the clean-up, saying he wants to “keep the politics out” of that decision.

Seventy-nine percent of the respondents to the PPP poll believe Duke Energy should bear the cost of cleaning-up the coal ash ponds, not taxpayers and not its customers.

Holleman joins us this weekend on News & Views with Chris Fitzsimon to discuss what Duke Energy and the McCrory administration need to do about the Dan River coal ash spill. For a preview of  that radio interview, click below.

Duke Energy faces a March 15th deadline to present its response to the governor, laying out the options and costs for cleaning up the Dan.
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Funeral services are slated for this afternoon for Senator Martin Nesbitt. The Democratic Senate leader, who died last week of stomach cancer, was remembered as a mountain populist in era of hyperpartisanship and a defender of working people in his hometown paper, the Asheville Citizen-Times.

Here’s an excerpt from Editor Jim Buchanan’s column:

NesbittNesbitt was often described as a mountain populist — because he was. He was a voice for educators, was often found wading deep into the weeds of North Carolina’s fractured mental health system in search of solutions and was at the forefront of issues important to average working people and the poor.

He was chief budget writer for a number of years and put his stamp on landmark legislation such as the groundbreaking Clean Smokestacks Act, which forced power plants to cut down on toxic emissions.

Fellow Buncombe Democrat Sen. Steve Metcalf, the other major force behind the Smokestacks Act, said Nesbitt “just strongly believed that the institutions of government could help people.”

Metcalf summed up Nesbitt nicely when he noted “he’d rather be at the race track on a Friday night than hanging out at the country club.’’

Sen. Dan Blue, who entered the legislature about the same time as Nesbitt, told the News & Observer, “He was a giant figure. He had a sense of mountain populism that ran through him, and he sensed that his major charge was to look out for the average everyday person.”

That, in the end, defined Martin Nesbitt. He wasn’t a politician in the game to feather his own nest and then pull the ladder up behind him.

He was a public servant.

Those words sound quaint these days.

They shouldn’t.

These mountains feel a little smaller, a little more vulnerable to the troublesome forces of the outside world, with the loss of Martin Nesbitt.

He was our advocate and defender.

We thank him for his service.

The service is slated for 2:00 p.m. at Biltmore Baptist Church in Arden. Governor Pat McCrory has ordered all state flags to fly at half-staff through Tuesday to honor the Buncombe County Senator.

Hopefully all Policy Watch readers are taking a bit of their lunch break outside – as we break into the 70s and finally get to enjoy more daylight.

If you’re still getting caught up on news from the weekend, Governor Pat McCrory has been busy responding to criticism over his administration’s protection of the environment.

The governor brushed off questions raised by the New York Times, and told WSOC that his “administration has taken the most aggressive action in North Carolina history”  in pushing for clean air and water.

However it appears they are making that push with far fewer people.  The News and Observer reports that just last week, the state Department of Environment and Natural Resources eliminated another 13 percent of the staff in the Division of Water Resources.

Rep. Pricey Harrison also weighed in on the downsizing of DENR on NC Policy Watch’s News & Views over the weekend. Click below for a short excerpt of that interview or here for the full radio segment.
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The legislature’s Environmental Review Commission meets this Wednesday to continue their discussion of coal ash storage.

Also be sure to mark your calendar for Thursday evening when the Headwaters Group of the NC Sierra Club will hold a panel discussion in Durham on “Is the State Doing Enough to protect Your Water?”

UNC-Wilmington professors Scott Imig and Robert Smith are back in the news with their  latest survey that finds an amazing number of parents deeply unhappy with recent changes to public education.  As education reporter Lindsay Wagner reports,  survey respondents “overwhelmingly trusted teachers and administrators — not lawmakers — to make educational decisions for the state’s public schools.pew

Our chart of the day comes from Pew Research, with a look at the Millennial generation – and how this racially diverse, independent group will shape our future elections:

Pew Research Center surveys show that half of Millennials (50%) now describe themselves as political independents and about three-in-ten (29%) say they are not affiliated with any religion. These are at or near the highest levels of political and religious disaffiliation recorded for any generation in the quarter-century that the Pew Research Center has been polling on these topics.

Finally, it’s unlikely many millennials know who Pat Boone is, but the 1950′s clean-cut,  pop singer has just endorsed David Rouzer for Congress.  We thought we’d close out today’s lunch links with this release from Boone’s 1997 album In a Metal Mood: No More Mr. Nice Guy: (Apologies in advance to any Pulse readers who are Deep Purple fans.)

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