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New from our colleagues at the Budget and Tax Center:

Much of North Carolina has still not recovered from the Great Recession, according to the latest employment data for May.

Roughly two-thirds of North Carolina’s counties have fewer people working today than before the recession, and almost a quarter of the counties in North Carolina saw employment decline since May of 2014, a distressing sign given that it comes amidst generally strong national growth.

“The picture in many small towns and rural communities is not good,” said Patrick McHugh, Economic Analyst for the Budget & Tax Center, a project of the NC Justice Center. “Even in some cities that are largely seen as doing better, wages have not kept up with inflation over the last seven years.”

Notable data from the labor market release include:

  • 88 of North Carolina’s 100 counties have more people looking for work today than before the Great Recession.
  • 64 of North Carolina’s 100 counties have not gotten back to pre-recession levels of employment.
  • 14 of North Carolina’s 15 metropolitan areas still have more people looking for work than before the recession.
  • Adjusting for inflation, only metropolitan areas (Charlotte, Durham-Chapel Hill, Greenville, New Bern, and Wilmington) have seen better than 4 percent growth in wages over the last year.
  • Wages have not kept up with inflation in eight of North Carolina’s 15 metropolitan areas.

“The current period of economic growth is not creating enough jobs in many communities and most workers are not seeing their paychecks grow,” McHugh said. “We’re doing better than a few years ago, but this economy still isn’t working for a lot of working North Carolina.”

The Budget and Tax Center provides summaries of each county’s current labor market data, and how each county has fared since the start of the recession.

NC Budget and Tax Center

The March employment numbers out today show another month of positive, but relatively lackluster economic performance in North Carolina. The unemployment rate in North Carolina has now been essentially flat for the last five months and the number of unemployed North Carolinians has actually increased in the first three months of 2015.

According to analysis of the latest labor market data by the Budget & Tax Center, employment levels have edged up in the last year, but are still well below the pre-recession norm. In fact, a smaller share of North Carolinians have a job today than during the worst of the recession that followed the 9/11 attacks.

“The North Carolina economy has been idling along for several months and continues to be weaker than it was in 2007,” said Patrick McHugh of the North Carolina Budget and Tax Center. “The worry now is that we’ll see a new normal, with lower levels of employment and paychecks that don’t go as far.”

Other highlights of the March data include:

  • Unemployment rate not making gains: After falling dramatically from 2009 through the third quarter of 2014, the state and national unemployment rates have flattened out in recent months. Even while the state continues to add jobs, growth is not enough to push unemployment below the 5% threshold that most economists see as the top-end of a healthy labor market. Part of the flattening out may be attributable to people coming back into the labor force, which would be good news. However, it is still troubling to see the labor market falling well short of full employment.
  • Still more North Carolinians out of work than before the Great Recession: Even though the ranks of the unemployed have declined over the past year, there are still more than a quarter-million North Carolinians looking for work, approximately 10% more than at the end of 2007.
  • Percent of North Carolinians employed still near historic lows: March numbers showed 57.5% of North Carolinians were employed, which is up 1 percentage point from March 2014. However, this still leaves North Carolina well below the level of employment that was commonplace before the Great Recession. In the mid-2000’s, employment levels were generally between 62% and 63%. Moreover, the level of employment in North Carolina has fallen behind the national average, when the state was generally at or above the nation in the pre-recession period.

For more context on the current state of the North Carolina economy, check out a recent report that reviews the last seven years of economic data and the Budget & Tax Center’s weekly Prosperity Watch platform.

 

NC Budget and Tax Center

For all of the positive growth numbers touted at the statewide level in the last year, the recovery ranges from partial to virtually nonexistent in many parts of the state. The headline unemployment rate dropped for most counties between February 2014 and this year, but unfortunately that is not a sign that all in well. As can be seen when you look at the current labor market conditions and how counties stack up to where they were before the recession, there are many communities where employment is still below pre-recession levels, some communities that actually lost jobs during the last year, and people looking for work outnumber job openings in most counties.

Most counties have not returned to pre-recession levels of employment. While the last few years have seen the state make some good economic strides as the national economy has continued to improve, it has not done enough to get most communities back to the level of vitality that existed before the Great recession. The majority of counties in North Carolina (70 out of 100), had fewer jobs in February 2015 than they did in 2007. In fact, the unemployment rate is still higher now than it was in 2007 in more than 80 counties across the state.

Unemployed people outnumber job openings in almost every county. Only 8 counties in North Carolina have at least as many job openings as unemployed people. Many counties have 2 or 3 unemployed people for every job opening, and in some counties there are as many as 5 or 6 unemployed people competing for every job. The number of people who are looking for work did come down in most counties from February 2014 through this year, but there are still far more people looking for work than there are jobs. In fact, roughly three-quarters of the counties had more people looking for work in February of this year than they did in 2007. There are still too few jobs for those who want to work which not impacts jobless workers but everyone as employers aren’t compelled to provide wage increases to keep or attract talent.

Many counties took a step back over the last year. While it is cause for pause that most counties have not returned to pre-recession levels of employment, the fact that almost half of the counties (47) lost employment from February of 2014 to February of 2015 is cause for a full-on double-take. 2014 was the strongest year for job creation since the start of the Great Recession, yet nearly half of the counties lost jobs during that time. That’s an extremely alarming sign. It is natural to expect some counties to grow faster than others, but a truly strong growth period should not be leaving so much of the state worse off.

All told, the February county labor market data show that North Carolina is not uniformly on the road to prosperity. There are pockets of very strong growth in and around the major metropolitan areas, but the labor market outside of the urban centers is much weaker. As the General Assembly talks about another round of tax cuts, and spending more on incentives, remember that these have been the proposed answers for several years, and they have not delivered the goods for many communities in our state.

Commentary

Please join us next week for a special NC Policy Watch Crucial Conversation luncheon —

“Fraud in the workplace: How numerous North Carolina employers are cheating their competitors and stealing from employees and taxpayers (and what should be done about it)”

Click here to register

There’s a multimillion dollar crime spree underway in North Carolina. Unfortunately, save for the efforts of a few intrepid journalists and lawyers, it’s a problem that’s mostly being ignored and swept under the rug. The issue is wage theft and the “misclassification” of workers by employers. As Raleigh’s News & Observer reported in a special report last fall entitled “Contract to Cheat”:

“Employers treat many of these laborers as independent contractors. It’s a tactic that costs taxpayers billions of dollars each year. Yet when it comes to public projects, government regulators have done nearly nothing about it, even when the proof is easy to get.

The workers don’t have protections. The companies don’t withhold taxes. The regulators don’t seem to care.”

Mandy Locke

Please join us as we explore this huge and poorly understood problem and how state lawmakers and regulators might properly address it with the lead author of the “Contract to Cheat” series, investigative reporter Mandy Locke.

Since joining the N&O in 2004, Locke has written extensively about the legal system, child welfare and hospital disputes. Her investigative work has been honored nationally by the Michael Kelly Award and the Gerald Loeb Award for business reporting.

Locke will be joined by Raleigh businessman Doug Burton, President and Owner of Whitman Masonry. Burton is one of the numerous North Carolina employers who treats his workers fairly, plays by the rules and is regularly disadvantaged as a result of the state’s lax law enforcement in this area.

When: Wednesday, January 28th, at noon — Box lunches will be available at 11:45 a.m.

Where: Center for Community Leadership Training Room at the Junior League of Raleigh Building, 711 Hillsborough St. (At the corner of Hillsborough and St. Mary’s streets)

Space is limited – preregistration required.

Cost: $10, admission includes a box lunch.

Click here to register

Questions?? Contact Rob Schofield at 919-861-2065 or rob@ncpolicywatch.com

Commentary

The conservatives in Congress are already queuing up to offer proposals that would gut amend Obamacare. For instance, leaders McConnell and Boehner are already proposing to raise the threshold number of hours that employees must work per week from 30 to 40 in order to trigger the mandate that their employer provide coverage.

As Paul Van de Water of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities explains on the blog Off the Charts, this will be a destructive idea that will actually lead to less full-time employment:

ACA work thresholdCritics of health reform claim that employers are shifting some employees to part-time work to avoid offering them health insurance.  But the data provide scant evidence of such a shift.

Moreover, raising the threshold for mandating coverage from 30 to 40 hours would make a shift toward part-time employment much more likely — not less so.

Only about 7 percent of employees work 30 to 34 hours (that is, at or modestly above health reform’s 30-hour threshold), but 44 percent of employees work 40 hours a week and thus would be vulnerable to cuts in their hours if the threshold rose to 40 hours.  Under the Boehner-McConnell proposal, employers could easily cut back large numbers of employees from 40 to 39 hours so they wouldn’t have to offer them health coverage.

The bottom line according to Van de Water:

There’s little evidence to date that health reform has caused a shift to part-time work.  There’s every reason to expect the impact to be small as a share of total employment, as we have explained.  And raising the cutoff for the employer mandate from 30 to 40 hours a week would be a step in the wrong direction.