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NC Budget and Tax Center

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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NC Budget and Tax Center

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.

NC Budget and Tax Center

According to the latest issue of Prosperity Watch, North Carolina’s job growth has remained stubbornly stagnant over the last year, with the unemployment rate stuck between 9.6 and 9.4 since February 2012. Even more troubling, however, is the fact that what little employment growth the state has experienced since the end of the recession has largely occurred in low-wage service industries. In effect, the state is losing the middle-wage jobs that used to provide a pathway into the middle class for many North Carolinians and replacing them with jobs in industries that pay significantly below the state average—a boom in low-wage employment.  See the latest issue of Prosperity Watch for details.

NC Budget and Tax Center

Earlier this week, the N.C. Division of Employment Security released the latest jobs numbers for January, and unsurprisingly, North Carolina’s labor market is continuing to struggle. As the latest issue of Prosperity Watch makes clear, the state’s employment recovery is still lagging the national average, and despite slowly beginning to close this gap, much work remains to provide adequate employment opportunities for North Carolina’s workers.  See the latest Prosperity Watch for details.