NC Budget and Tax Center

North Carolina’s falling labor force continues to drive reductions in the state’s unemployment rate, according to the February jobs report released by Division of Employment Security this morning. Over the last year, just 4 in 10 formerly unemployed workers actually found jobs, while the rest dropped out of the labor force.

Despite falling to 6.4 percent since February 2013, the unemployment rate masks the true plight of joblessness in the state.  Since the unemployment rate is calculated by dividing the number of unemployed people by the number of people in the labor force, the unemployment rate can also go down if the labor force shrinks, even if genuine joblessness remains high.  And that’s what happened from February 2013 to February 2014—only 48,000 jobless workers moved into employment over the last year. The rest—another 64,000 workers—just gave up and dropped out of the labor force, continuing a historically unprecedented contraction in the state’s workforce.

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. And we’re not seeing that because job creation remains anemic. In fact, North Carolina created just 46,000 payroll jobs over the last year, according to preliminary estimates released today. This is significantly less than the 69,000 jobs created in 2012, and the 62,000 jobs created in 2011.

Five years into the recovery from the Great Recession, we would expect North Carolina to see a steadily accelerating rate of employment growth each year, yet the numbers released today paint a different picture. While these numbers will certainly be revised in the next year, it is clear that the state’s employment growth is not living up to expectations, and more importantly, is failing to meet the needs of the state’s unemployed.

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What’s the deal in Kansas these days? That’s a question Governor McCrory and North Carolina’s state leaders should be asking themselves.

After passing huge tax cuts in recent years, the subsequent unimpressive economic performance and continued disinvestment in core public investments in Kansas serve as a cautionary tale for North Carolina.

A recently released report by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP) highlights how Kansas’ economic performance has failed to live up to the promises made by Governor Brownback and his legislative allies. Kansas passed huge income tax cuts in 2012 that reduced annual revenue for public investments by more than $800 million for FY 2014. Proponents claimed the tax cuts would boost the state’s economy.

Last year North Carolina followed Kansas’ lead when state leaders passed and Governor McCrory signed into law a tax plan that includes huge income tax rate cuts and reduces annual revenue by more than $650 million once all tax changes take effect. Here too, the governor and proponents claimed that cutting taxes will boost North Carolina’s economy.

So how is Kansas faring these days?

Kansas hasn’t experienced anything close to an economic surge in the wake of the huge tax cuts. Massive revenue loss has meant continued state funding cuts to core public investments – public schools, colleges and universities, and healthcare services, for example. Read More

Governor McCrory is at it again—incorrectly claiming that his decision to dramatically cut unemployment benefits is responsible for turning around the state’s job market. During a visit to Morganton over the weekend, the Governor stated:

 “There’s nothing worse than if you have a job opening and someone decides to take a government check instead. So we had to bring the two together,” he said. “We made a decision [to cut unemployment benefits]. And that decision alone is the one lone factor, in comparison to any other state, which I think has helped North Carolina lower its unemployment rate drastically in the last five months.”

While the Governor is correct that the state’s unemployment rate has dropped over the last year (from a revised 8.8 percent in January 2013 to 6.7 percent a year later), he couldn’t be more wrong about why the rate has dropped—and what it means for the state’s economy. The unemployment rate is falling because the labor force is contracting, not because jobless workers are moving into jobs.

Let’s take these one at a time.

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As our state leaders continue to look for ways to give more and more tax cuts to profitable corporations, these corporations continue to find ways to avoid paying their fair share of taxes. It is a win-win proposition: Heads they win; Tails they still win!

A report released today by the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy and Citizens for Tax Justice finds that 269 Fortune 500 companies collectively avoided paying $73.1 billion in state corporate income tax between 2008 and 2012. Nine of these multi-state corporations are headquartered in North Carolina and earned more than $51 billion in combined profits during this period.

The nine NC-based multi-state corporations paid an average overall corporate income tax rate of just 3.7 percent, which is well below North Carolina’s 6.9 percent statutory rate at the time. Unfortunately, our state leaders prefer to focus on optics rather than reality. Read More

Yesterday I read about the new #BrandNCProject that the Department of Commerce had launched with UNC’s business school. News of the effort immediately drew mockery from some those who don’t like the direction the state is going in in comments sections of news articles and on Twitter.

The survey asks us what words best describe our enduring core values we hold as North Carolinians. The examples include kindness, diversity, loyalty, friendliness, compassion and courage.survey screen shot

“Enduring core values are basic fundamental principles that guide our individual behavior and both determine and reflect how we think and act toward others,” the survey’s instructions state.

I earnestly tried to answer this survey as a North Carolinian who cares deeply about my state’s future and wants its brand stand out, and as someone who wanted to possibly shape this project’s development.

I tried, but I couldn’t.  That’s because I believe holding values and practicing values are two different things. Building, sustaining and practicing “enduring core values” is hard work that is never completed. It takes investment and examination.

Living a principled life is a journey, maybe even a battle. It’s about the sum of our actions.

So maybe we should step back and reflect on some different questions: How are we as North Carolinians living up to our values?  Are we on the right path to being the friendly, diverse, compassionate, fair, creative place we aspire to be? If not, how do we get there?

However important a brand might be –and I don’t dispute it is— it just feels like our leaders are again putting appearances first. And that is not an enduring core value I want for my state.