Amid rosy data showing that 98 counties had unemployment levels lower in 2017 than in 2016 there is plenty of evidence that many North Carolinians are still hurting. Over the broader period since the start of the Great Recession, 57 counties still have fewer employed workers than at that time, and 27 counties have unemployment levels at least one percentage point above the state average. The pain felt in these communities, that are in many ways worse off now than they were before the Great Recession, prove that the tax cut only approach has failed much of North Carolina. We must focus on an economic strategy that supports a recovery for the unemployed and their families throughout all the state’s communities.
A closer look at the metropolitan and micropolitan places in the Sandhills, a region that includes Cumberland, Harnett, Hoke, Lee, Montgomery, Moore, Richmond, and Scotland counties, reveals some troubling spots. While micro areas like Sanford (4.9%), Dunn (5%) and Pinehurst-Southern Pines (4.5%) have relatively low unemployment rates, peer places like Laurinburg (8%), Lumberton (6.4%) and Rockingham (6.1%) fare much poorer. The metropolitan area Fayetteville, which serves as an economic engine for the Sandhills region, is hamstrung by an unemployment rate at 5.5%, higher than the state average at 4.4% in December 2017. For many bedroom communities such as Hoke, Scotland, Harnett and Lee, Fayetteville’s lack of a full recovery from the Great Recession could pose a drag to their economies as jobless workers hold back on spending and face challenges in paying bills, staying in their homes.
Other highlights from this month’s labor market data include:
• Labor force shrinkage: Nearly 60 percent of all North Carolina counties have experienced a decrease in their labor force from 2016 and pre-recession levels. Duplin and Alleghany counties have seen their labor force diminish at the state’s highest rates year over year, – dropping 5.2% and 5.3% respectively. While there are several possible reasons for this decline, it is plausible that citizens are dropping out the search for work or out-migrating to other counties.
• East of I-95 metropolitan areas continue to lag behind the rest of the state. While improving, 6 out of the 7 metropolitan statistical areas east of Interstate 95 still featured unemployment rates higher than the state average for the entirety of 2017. For 12 consecutive months, Fayetteville, Goldsboro, Greenville, Jacksonville, New Bern and Rocky Mount experienced joblessness rates higher than other metropolitan areas throughout the state.