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North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory, in an interview aired yesterday on a Charlotte radio station, downplayed cuts to unemployment benefits caused by made this year to the state’ s unemployment insurance system.

“We didn’t take away unemployment benefits,” McCrory said on WFAE’s “Charlotte Talks” program in response to a question about cuts to the unemployment insurance system. “We didn’t extend them. We were following the existing policy.”

Audio clip from WFAE in Charlotte

The state, through legislation signed into law in February by McCrory, did cut both the length of time a person can collect unemployment (reduced from six months to a sliding scale of 12 to 20 weeks) and also cut the maximum weekly benefit from $535 to $350 a week.  The cuts were part of an extensive plan to repay more than $2.6 billion the state unemployment insurance system borrowed during the height of the recession.

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WRAL aired this documentary last night on the state’s new unemployment insurance, focusing on the estimated 170,000 longterm unemployed who were rendered ineligible for federal unemployment help when the N.C. General Assembly adopted changes for the state’s unemployment system.

North Carolina, which has the third highest unemployment in the state, was the only state to reject the federal funds as it sought an expedited way to repay $2.5 billion borrowed by the unemployment system in the height of the recession. Businesses saw a modest increase in what they pay into the system, while the length of time and amount of benefits were significantly reduced for those who find themselves suddenly without jobs.

Veteran WRAL anchor Bill Leslie talked with people whose benefits had been cut off, to see how they’ve fared.

You can watch the video here, or below.

Gov. Pat McCrory was in Asheville yesterday when he told the Council on Independent Business Owners that changes to the state’s tax and unemployment systems were being misunderstood by the state’s journalists.

From the Mountain XPress, Asheville’s weekly alternative newspaper:

“This is too complex for the journalists,” McCrory said, to laughter from the CIBO members. “They don’t have economics degrees, they’ve not been in business. I respect them greatly, but you get it. This is what we have to do to rebuild our economy. It’s not easy. I empathize with the people being impacted, but my goal is to get these people back into jobs.”

McCrory particularly defended a controversial cut in unemployment benefits. He said that the state asked to lower the benefits to the levels of surrounding states, but the federal government refused, as its commitment to backing and extending unemployment benefits during the financial crisis required states to keep their benefits the same.

He also told the crowd that he wanted to introduce performance pay for teachers but that “the unions are stopping us from doing that,” according to the Mountain Xpress article.

North Carolina, unlike many other states, doesn’t have teacher unions, and has laws that prohibit collective bargaining in public sector jobs like teaching.

Mark Binker over at WRAL, in a post this afternoon, pointed out that McCrory, despite lodging criticism, doesn’t have an economics degree.

We here at N.C. Policy Watch have previously written about other misstatements McCrory has made about this year’s drastic changes to the state’s unemployment system. McCrory has (inaccurately) blamed the Obama Administration for not preventing the July 1 unemployment cliff that led to 70,000 people losing federal unemployment benefits.

Those changes were a result of legislation passed by the N.C. General Assembly and signed into law by McCrory. (Click here to read more.)

The statewide unemployment rate is holding steady at 8.8 percent, despite a statewide loss of 11,000 jobs over the last month.

The June employment data was released today by the N.C. Department of Commerce’s Labor and Economic Analysis division.  It was the same as last month, and down from the 9.6 percent unemployment the state battled this time last year.

Today’s release of June data make the third month in a row the state has come in under 9 percent. Click here for more detailed data from the state commerce agency about the unemployment figures.

But it’s far from a rosy picture, with 10,958 less people employed this month over last month and an estimated 10,000 people no longer in the labor force (meaning those who are no longer actively looking for jobs).

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Unemployment dropped last month to 8.8 percent, the fourth straight month of decline as the nation’s economy is regaining its footing, according to seasonally-adjusted numbers released Friday by the N.C. Division of Employment Security.

Nationally, North Carolina is still lagging behind the national unemployment rate of 7.6 percent.

But the situation is far from rosy for those still looking for jobs.

In less than two weeks, the state will block 71,000 people July 1 from receiving extended unemployment benefits, federal money that was supposed to flow through the long-term unemployment through the end of the year.

North Carolina, the only state to effectively reject the federal money, is implementing a new, expansive unemployment insurance system adopted by the legislature earlier this year that will aggressively pay down $2.5 billion in debt the state took on in the height of the recession. The maximum amounts of benefits and length of time the jobless can receive benefits were slashed as part of the changes.

Previously, jobless workers could receive up to 26 weeks of benefits, but the state’s new plan will have a sliding scale of 12 to 20 weeks, based on local unemployment figures and other factors.

Denise Davis is one of those who will be cut off from benefits on July 1. Davis, of Greensboro, said she’s been out of work since last November after being laid off from her job at vitamin production plant.

The single mom of two teenagers said she’s struggled to find replacement work for her $50,000 a year job, and has applied for hundreds of jobs with no responses. Last week, she attended a job opening event at a Burger King and was one of 80 people applying for three jobs at the fast food restaurant.
She hasn’t heard back to see if she’s being considered.

“I’ve been working all my life and I got displaced from my job,”  Davis said. “I don’t know what I’m going to do. How am I going to pay my mortgage?”

There will be an immediate cutoff of 71,000 people on July 1, and the numbers of those affected by the legislative changes are expected to grow in coming months, as high as 170,000 and more than $700 million in federal money that would have flowed through to jobless workers.

Budget writers could delay the start date of the changes, and allow the federal money to flow through, but there’s been no indication from Republican legislative leaders or Gov. Pat McCrory that will happen.

Mecklenburg County has the most people affected by the July 1 cutoff, followed by Wake, Guilford (where Davis lives) and Cumberland counties.

Below is a searchable database by county of the numbers of those affected by the July 1 cutoff date.

County Name
Basic Unemployment
Extended Benefits (Subject to July 1 cut-off)
TOTALS92,81370,454
ALAMANCE1,3951013
ALEXANDER302195
ALLEGHANY6243
ANSON258221
ASHE300233
AVERY9183
BEAUFORT474401
BERTIE176194
BLADEN401312
BRUNSWICK865612
BUNCOMBE1,6301267
BURKE654504
CABARRUS1,6021124
CALDWELL719650
CAMDEN4842
CARTERET402337
CASWELL179130
CATAWBA1,6371161
CHATHAM332305
CHEROKEE167160
CHOWAN111112
CLAY7749
CLEVELAND1,083790
COLUMBUS572414
CRAVEN764640
CUMBERLAND3,3972706
CURRITUCK8997
DARE172158
DAVIDSON1,4891160
DAVIE360217
DUPLIN406361
DURHAM2,1401698
EDGECOMBE782770
FORSYTH3,2532480
FRANKLIN475394
GASTON2,1001692
GATES3932
GRAHAM98100
GRANVILLE492373
GREENE200122
GUILFORD5,1883930
HALIFAX620471
HARNETT967790
HAYWOOD399340
HENDERSON544404
HERTFORD182175
HOKE444383
HYDE3419
IREDELL1,4431140
JACKSON300161
JOHNSTON1,295921
JONES7153
LEE573546
LENOIR644462
LINCOLN784570
MCDOWELL406318
MACON392187
MADISON172102
MARTIN221259
MECKLENBURG10,0507196
MITCHELL149119
MONTGOMERY235142
MOORE642468
NASH1,169909
NEW HANOVER1,8591374
NORTHAMPTON152145
ONSLOW977793
ORANGE662414
PAMLICO8167
PASQUOTANK338321
PENDER437349
PERQUIMANS9874
PERSON500316
PITT1,7951293
POLK7762
RANDOLPH1,4721016
RICHMOND456404
ROBESON1,4811230
ROCKINGHAM987769
ROWAN1,424899
RUTHERFORD588508
SAMPSON473430
SCOTLAND464380
STANLY486417
STOKES390255
SURRY639470
SWAIN106120
TRANSYLVANIA129117
TYRRELL3541
UNION1,4351032
VANCE491438
WAKE6,8544713
WARREN155122
WASHINGTON132147
WATAUGA203182
WAYNE965824
WILKES583434
WILSON1,578855
YADKIN302258
YANCEY137113
OUT OF STATE6,1885347
UNKNOWN967308
Source: Division of Employment Security, NC Commerce Department