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Another month, another underwhelming jobs report for North Carolina. The Tar Heel state created fewer jobs and saw a smaller percentage of unemployed workers find employment than the rest of the nation over the last year, according to the February jobs report released by Division of Employment Security this morning.

The numbers tell a clear story: 2013 was a rough year for the state’s labor market. While the state saw its payrolls expand by 65,000 new jobs (1.6 percent) since March 2013, this represents slower job growth than the 1.7 percent rate of job creation in the nation as a whole. Even more troubling, this represents a reversal from the previous year (March 2012 to March 2013), during which North Carolina outpaced the nation in job creation 1.6 percent to 1.5 percent.

Not only did North Carolina underperform the rest of the nation over the last year, the state’s performance in 2013 stacks up poorly compared to its performance in previous years. Over the past year (March 2013-2014), the state created 200 fewer jobs than it did over the same period the year before (March 2012-2013), and only created 100 more jobs than were created from March 2011-2012—hardly signs of an increasing job creation trajectory.

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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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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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AF-Jobs

Crossposted on NC Policy Watch

Over the past few months, Governor McCrory has been claiming his policies—especially cutting unemployment benefits—are responsible for reducing the state’s unemployment rate. He’s even branded this the “Carolina Comeback.” But as it turns out, the Governor’s claims largely rest on treating jobs numbers like fruit—like apples, oranges, and cherries. In fact, the evidence for a Carolina Comeback is just plain rotten, and we’re still waiting for a real recovery in the state’s jobs market.

Most economists prefer to compare apples to apples by looking at job growth from year to year. And by any comparison of apples, the year stretching from December 2012 to December 2013 was worse than the year before.  Specifically, the year between December 2011 and 2012 saw the creation of 89,900 jobs, while the same period in 2013 saw the creation of just 64,500 jobs.

Even worse, over the last year, only three of every ten jobless workers who moved out of unemployment actually moved into a job in 2013. The rest just left the labor force altogether. Since December 2012, the labor force contracted by 66,500 workers, more than 1.5 percent, to the lowest levels in three years. At the same time, only 32,600 unemployed workers found employment. And all this while the state’s working age population continued to grow.

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In remarks at Monday’s economic forecast forum, a number of speakers sought to take credit for enacting policies in 2013 that they believe have contributed to big drops in the unemployment rate since last January, an idea that has been repeated in recent business news reports. Unfortunately, as much as we all want to make progress reducing North Carolina’s persistent joblessness, we’re still waiting for a jobs recovery to actually happen.

The unfortunate reality is that the unemployment rate may have fallen due to mathematical quirk in how it’s calculated, but unemployment itself still remains high due to anemic job creation and a contracting labor force.

Perhaps the most problematic claim involves the mistaken notion that the General Assembly’s deep cuts to unemployment benefits that took effect in June somehow spurred an impressive reduction in unemployment in the following months. According to this view, the “employment effect” associated with cutting unemployment benefits forces workers to find jobs that they otherwise would not have accepted because the wages of those new jobs pay less than what their old jobs paid. And since the unemployment rate has gone down, proponents of these cuts have argued that the employment effect must have worked in just this way.

There is a serious problem with this idea—it assumes that unemployed workers who lost their benefits in June went out and found jobs in August through November, a claim that just doesn’t bear up under serious scrutiny.

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