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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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As we approach Labor Day weekend, new data from the state Division of Employment Security  shows unemployment rates fell in 97 of North Carolina’s 100 counties last month. However, most of the job growth this past year has occurred in Leisure & Hospitality, the lowest-wage sector.

This industry pays roughly $12 below the statewide average, according to analysis by the NC Budget & Tax Center.

MaryBe McMillan with the NC State AFL-CIO says it’s troubling that the employment opportunities that have replaced the manufacturing jobs lost during the recession fail to provide families a living wage:

“Folks cannot get by on $7.25 an hour, and it’s long overdue we raise the minimum wage, make it a living wage, index it to inflation so we are not going another decade or so without a wage increase,” explained McMillan in an interview with NC Policy Watch.

Minimum wage workers and their supporters will gather today (Thursday) in cities across the nation, including Raleigh, asking to be paid $15 an hour.

For a preview of McMillan’s radio interview with Chris Fitzsimon, click below:

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This week’s issue of Prosperity Watch grapples with an under-reported and historically unprecedented trend in North Carolina’s economy–while the state has experienced a total of more than 4 percent total growth in Gross Domestic Product from 2006 through 2011, job creation over this period has been virtually nonexistant. This trend in manufacturing is even more pronounced.

So what’s causing this troubling divergence between economic output and job creation? See the latest Prosperity Watch for details.