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NC Budget and Tax Center

Yesterday, the Labor and Economic Division released October labor market data for all 100 counties.  The headline of the release was that the unemployment rate had dropped in 98 counties, or nearly all, in the past month.  It sounds like good news, and it is, but the new data also show that many parts of the state are still struggling mightily. As the Budget and Tax Center has noted before, you have to look deeper than the headline unemployment number to know whether employment prospects are actually improving.

Such a look behind the unemployment rate does show signs of labor markets improving year-over-year, primarily along the lines seen at the state and national level.  The number of unemployed people has declined since October 2013 in all counties and a majority of counties have seen gains in employment.

But it is not “mission accomplished” time yet. The October county data contain worrying signs that should not be glossed over.

The majority of counties have not caught up to pre-recession levels of employment. Employment prospects are still slow to emerge in many counties, particularly in the rural parts of the state. Sixty six counties have more unemployed people in October 2014 than they did in December 2007.

Even more concerning, roughly one-third of the counties registered declines in employment from October 2013 through October of this year. Beyond not having caught up to pre-recession employment, many parts of our state have taken a step back over the last year. Again, this troubling trend is most concentrated in rural counties. Read More

News

The N.C. Secretary of State’s office had a report out yesterday that found North Carolina residents are continuing a downward trend in their charitable giving.

The office, led by Elaine Marshall, a Democrat, monitors charities in the state and puts out a report each year about the how much of a charity’s incoming revenue goes to services and program and how much covers overhead costs.

In 2013-14, North Carolina charities received $21.4 million, a drop of 33 percent from the $32.2 million in donations that came in the year before. This year was also the lowest amount that’s been donated in the past four years.

It also comes as the effects of the recession continue to linger in North Carolina, and more families and residents are turning to charities for help.

Nearly one in every five families in the state aren’t making enough to cover their basic living expenses as the state’s manufacturing base has been replaced by low-paying jobs in the service and tourism industries, according to a  report published in June 2014 by the N.C. Justice Center’s Budget and Tax Center.

Employment levels have been on a slow climb out of the recession, and last month North Carolina finally saw its employment numbers match the number of jobs there were in the state before the recession began in 2008.

“Clearly, we are seeing that North Carolina households are still under a great deal of economic pressure,” Marshall said, in a written statement. “I thank everyone who is continuing to finds ways to support the non-profits out there that are trying to accomplish good works.”

The figures don’t cover all of charitable giving in the state – only those charities that use professional fundraising services, pay officers of the charity and raise more than $25,000. Educational institutions, churches and other religious groups and groups like volunteer fire departments also don’t have to report their information to Marshall’s office.

You can read the report here, and search to see what individual charities collected, and what went to overhead costs.

 

Commentary

ThanksgivingIf you’re preparing for the inevitable political discussions that will accompany your family get-togethers this week, here are three new Thanksgiving-themed posts that might help you out:

#1 is today’s Fitzsimon File, which highlights the hypocritical change of heart that so many conservative politicians display toward people in need around the holidays. As Chris notes, the disconnect between what the politicians say about the same needy people during the holidays and the other 11 months of the years is frequently breathtaking.

#2 is a new Q&A from the N.C. Budget and Tax Center entitled “How to talk about the economy and taxes with your family.” Here’s an example:

WHEN THEY SAY: “This state is spending more than ever on public education.”

YOU SAY: We’re funding public schools in NC nearly 6 percent less than in 2008 when you adjust for how much things cost.  This would be like the Panthers claiming a touchdown at the 6 yard line.

As the economy improves—and it is improving—we need to invest in our public schools to ensure that we educate our kids and build a sound foundation for future economic growth. Without investing more, we can’t ensure that our classrooms, teachers and students have the cutting-edge tools to improve learning.

Finally, #3 is this morning’s edition of the Weekly Briefing (“Food for thought on the immigration question”) in which several key facts are spelled out (and myths exposed) about President Obama’s executive order on immigration last week. For example: Read More

Commentary

Facts matter in policymaking. A growing number of data tools are available to help inform policymakers and the public of local conditions and trends so that policies to respond can be data-driven and achieve better, efficient results.  The latest tool is the Opportunity Index released annually by the Opportunity Nation and Measure of America.  This interactive website provides state and county level data on economic, education and civic factors that inform us about the levels of opportunity for residents.

North Carolina ranks 35th in the nation in terms of its level of opportunity with a total score of 50.6 below the national average of 52.8.  The good news is that North Carolina’s score has improved since 2011 when the Opportunity Nation and Measure of America first released the index but this improvement, by 3.1 percentage points, was insufficient progress relative to other states to move our state up significantly in the rankings.  NC was ranked 36th in 2011.

A few indicators were clearly moving in the wrong direction for North Carolina over this period:  poverty increased from 16.3 percent to 18 percent, median household income declined by more than $2,000 and the number of 3- and 4- year olds in public or private preschool fell from 46.7 percent to 42.2 percent. Read More

Commentary

Pat McCrory press eventGovernor Pat McCrory is reportedly considering calling the General Assembly into special session to put more money into one of the state’s primary business incentive schemes, the Job Development Incentive Grant program, or JDIG.

Commerce Secretary Sharon Decker says the state is pursuing several big economic development projects and is bumping up against the $22.5 million cap on JDIG grants.

If all this sounds familiar, it should. Decker was openly calling for special session two months ago. Here’s what she told the N.C. Economic Development Board in August.

Decker told board members that money in the popular JDIG incentives fund would run out by late October without legislative action to increase the cap. The state, she said, is pursuing a large project that would take 80 percent of the fund’s balance, leaving little cash for about 30 other projects – and roughly 10,000 jobs – that are “in the pipeline.”

“We won’t get all of those jobs even with the Job Development Investment Grant, but I can assure you we will get fewer of them if we don’t have it,” Decker said.

….Decker wants a special session to be called soon. “Several folks have said to me, ‘Can you wait until the (2015) long session?’ We can’t, in my opinion,” she said.

Read More