Commentary

Some uncomfortable questions about Eden’s looming brewery closure

State Senate Leader Phil Berger has some questions about the news that MillerCoors is going to close its long-time facility in Eden, Rockingham County, laying off 520 people in the process. Last night, he and fellow Rockingham legislator Bert Jones sent a letter to the U.S. Senate Subcommittee on Antitrust, Competition Policy and Consumer Rights with a list of questions they urged the panel to pursue in an effort to determine whether the Eden brewery closure falls afoul of federal anti-monopoly regulations.

The Senator’s efforts are admirable given the enormously negative impact the plant’s closure would have on the rural community, which already has one of the state’s highest unemployment rates. And we sincerely hope that the brewery remains open, staving off the kind of mass layoffs that proved so disastrous to the human and economic fabric in rural communities like Kannapolis.

But after years of watching the legislature systematically dismantle the very state investments that protect jobless workers and promote community resiliency in times of high unemployment, workers in Rockingham and across North Carolina have some questions for Senator Berger as well:

  1. Why should Rockingham workers lose their unemployment benefits if they can’t find a job after 12 weeks ? If the brewery closes, 520 workers will lose their jobs through no fault of their own. Given that there are already twice as many unemployed workers as available job openings in Rockingham County (according to NCWorks), it will be mathematically very difficult for most these laid off workers to find new jobs. Thanks to the policies enacted by the General Assembly in 2013, Rockingham County workers will only have 12 weeks to find a job before they lose their unemployment benefits—the lowest duration offered for temporary wage replacement in the nation.
  1. Why should these laid off workers in Rockingham County lose food assistance after just three months if they can’t find employment in a job market without enough jobs? Since welfare reform in 1990s, the federal government has required able-bodied adults with no dependents to find a job, be engaged in skills training, or participate in other qualifying activities after three months of receiving food assistance or lose this assistance altogether. At the same time, federal law allows states to request waivers from this time limit in economically distressed counties where jobs are not available. Unfortunately, the General Assembly banned the state from offering this waiver in 2015, despite the 77 counties that qualified due to weak labor markets. In effect this move will significantly reduce access to food assistance for workers living in those counties, including Rockingham, after July 1 when the prohibition goes into effect.

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NC Budget and Tax Center

NC’s small business could use a boost

With the sounds of Small Business Saturday in the air, it’s a good time to take stock of how main street businesses in North Carolina have fared over the last several years. The end of the Great Recession certainly improved the prospects for small businesses, but the recovery here in North Carolina has had a decidedly big-business bent. Most small businesses have not seen the level of growth that their larger competitors have enjoyed during the recovery, a clear sign that we have not done enough to help Main Street to prosper.

Small Business Saturday Blog Post - NC Growth by Firm Size 2009-2015

As can be seen to the left, the fastest growth in employment during the recovery has occurred in larger businesses. The biggest businesses (more than 1000 employees) have expanded their collective workforce by more than 15% since 2009, the next largest set of establishments (between 500 and 1000 workers) by almost 12%. In contrast the smallest businesses in North Carolina have struggled to take advantage of the current period of prolonged economic growth.

The growth gap between larger and smaller businesses that we’ve seen in North Carolina has not happened to the same degree in many other states. Large firms have added jobs faster than smaller companies over the last six years nationwide, but the difference in North Carolina is much more pronounced. Growth for the largest US companies was twice that of the smallest, while here in North Carolina the largest companies lapped the smallest group five times.Small Business Saturday Blog Post - NC and US Growth by Firm Size 2009-2015

This imbalance is an economic problem because small businesses are the veins circulating capital through local economies. Owners with roots in a community often source more locally, spend more of their earnings nearby, pay better, and invest in their communities. All of that helps to keep money flowing around and creating jobs. None of this is to denigrate how many large companies can help communities, but when local businesses don’t prosper, growth doesn’t always translate into deeper economic health.

Recent economic results call for a different approach to supporting small businesses. Instead of continuing to focus on cutting the corporate income tax, which mostly helps big companies, we should be plowing more resources into programs that help small businesses get loans, find new customers, and retrain their workers. The General Assembly did take a few steps in the right direction this last session, like appropriating funds to The Support Center which makes loans to small companies. But, particularly compared to the tax breaks lavished on large companies over the last few years, the assistance provided to small businesses has not been up to scratch.

So when you hit the shopping trail this season, head to your local small businesses first, particularly if they pay their workers well, offer benefits, and are invested in your community. Big box stores have their place, and some are good corporate citizens, but it’s the small businesses in North Carolina that could use a boost.

Commentary

NC announces $600 million in new business tax cuts even as jobless struggle

As this week’s edition of The Weekly Briefing made plain, state leaders remain absurdly out of touch with the economic reality on the ground in North Carolina. The following announcement from colleagues at the N.C. Justice Center highlights this problem once more

Jobless workers struggle even as Division of Employment Security announces $600 million in tax cuts to employers
Employment remains more than 4 percentage points below pre-recession levels, according to October data 

Jobless workers continue to struggle with an economy that fails to provide enough jobs and an unemployment insurance system that is ill-equipped to deliver partial wage replacement to stabilize the economy, even as North Carolina’s Division of Employment Security announced $600 million in tax cuts to employers.

Employment levels as a share of the population remains more than 4 percentage points below pre-recession levels, according to today’s announcement on labor market conditions for October 2015.

Last month’s state employment rate was 5.7 percent, the same level as one year ago. However, the number of unemployed North Carolinians has increased over that period by 11,591 jobless workers. The national unemployment rate was 5.0 percent in October, dropping by 0.7 percentage points over the year.

“North Carolina should not be issuing tax cuts for employers when we have failed to reach what are generally agreed to be safe levels for our state’s Unemployment Insurance Trust Fund,” said Alexandra Forter Sirota, Director of the Budget & Tax Center, a project of the North Carolina Justice Center. “Instead, our state policymakers need to re-balance their approach to ensure the system can deliver partial wage replacement to jobless workers and in so doing serve as a stabilizing force in the economy.”

Important trends in the October data also include:

  • The percent of North Carolinians employed is still near historic lows, and below the nation. October numbers showed 57.5 percent of North Carolinians were employed, leaving the state well below employment levels commonplace before the Great Recession. In the mid-2000s, employment levels reached a peak of about 63 percent. The percent of North Carolinians with a job remains below the national average, as it has been since the Great Recession.
  • There are still more North Carolinians out of work than before the Great Recession. There were more than 270,000 North Carolinians looking for work in October, almost 50,000 more than before the Great Recession.
  • North Carolina’s unemployment insurance system only provided temporary wage replacement to 22,545 North Carolinians. The number of jobless North Carolinians receiving unemployment insurance has dropped precipitously since 2013, ranking us 49th in the country on this measure and hindering the ability of the program to serve as a stabilizing force in the economy.

“North Carolina’s labor market is still too weak to ensure jobs are available for all those who seek employment,” Sirota said. “This affects all of us, as wages are falling short of the growth needed to boost the economy in the immediate and long-term.”

For more context on the economic choices facing North Carolina, check out the Budget & Tax Center’s weekly Prosperity Watch platform.

NC Budget and Tax Center

Childless jobless workers will face additional barriers to put food on the table

The September local employment numbers highlight the persistent jobs challenge that North Carolina faces. At a time when local economies across North Carolina continue to experience the realities of an uneven recovery that has yet to return to pre-recession conditions, Governor McCrory will likely sign a bill today that will further negatively impact our state’s workers and families.

The expected signing of HB 318 means that the time limit on food assistance will go into effect  for 77 counties that qualify for a waiver due to weak labor market conditions. This could result in up to 105,000 childless North Carolinians losing food assistance, driving up demand at local pantries and holding back consumer spending in local groceries.

The latest labor market data show just how damaging the timing of HB 318 could be. All but one metropolitan area and the overwhelming majority of North Carolina’s 100 counties still have more people looking for work than before the economic collapse in 2007. This trend highlights the persistent jobs challenge North Carolina faces – more people desire to work than are jobs available to meet this demand for employment.

“There is a persistent narrative when assessing local labor market conditions in North Carolina. The recovery has been uneven and is bypassing a lot of people who live in both rural and urban areas,” said Cedric Johnson, Policy Analyst at the Budget & Tax Center, a project of the NC Justice Center. “In light of the labor market news, it is still clear that there are too few jobs for all who want to work in North Carolina.  Moreover, there are also too few skills training opportunities for those who seek retraining for new careers.”

Key findings from the county data include:

  • Only 22 of North Carolina’s 100 counties have reached the 5 percent threshold for unemployment that many economists view as full employment.
  • The number of people looking for work is still higher in 81 counties than it was before the recession.
  • 65 of North Carolina’s 100 counties have not gotten back to pre-recession levels of employment.
  • 16 counties actually lost jobs over the last year.

Key findings from the metropolitan data include:

  • 8 of North Carolina’s 15 metropolitan areas have added jobs since the start of the Great Recession. However, the number of people looking for work has grown much faster in every metropolitan area except one (Hickory-Lenoir-Morganton) during that period.
  • In 14 of North Carolina’s 15 metropolitan areas, the increase in the number of people looking for work is more than 20 percent higher than pre-recession levels.
  • Hickory-Lenoir-Morganton is the only metro area to experience a decline in labor force (2.8 percent), number of employed workers (2.8), and number of workers looking for work (3 percent) since the start of the Great Recession.
Commentary

Growth of low-wage contingent work, temporary jobs bad news for workers, report finds

The American economy has witnessed the explosive growth of contingent employment—any job in which an individual does not have an explicit or implicit contract for long-term employment—over the past 30 years. In a new report from the Workers’ Rights Project entitled The Age of Contingent Employment: How changes in employment relationships are impacting worker wages, power, and prospects, authors Clermont Ripley and Allan Freyer examine several key trends related to the growth of contingent work, including a special focus on temporary work and charts the impacts on workers, the overall economy, and the fundamental relationship between employer and employee. Key findings include:

  • Contingent employment takes many forms. It includes using labor contractors, temporary help agencies, employee leasing companies or other labor intermediaries, misclassification of employees as independent contractors, franchising, and contracting out services and the production of goods. Employers use contingent workers for the core business functions of the firm (e.g., manufacturing), and not just for peripheral activities like facilities maintenance or clerical support.
  • About one-third of the entire American workforce can be classified as contingent workers. This includes part-time workers (13.2 percent of the total workforce), independent contractors (7.4 percent), self-employed workers (4.4 percent), and a combination of temporary workers hired through agencies, temps hired directly by an employer, and temps hired as contractors (5.6 percent).
  • Employers have increasingly relied on contingent workers as a strategy for keeping down labor costs, a strategy that has cushioned corporate bottom lines and contributed to middle class wage stagnation. Despite historic productivity gains boosting record levels of corporate profitability, employers have sought to keep labor costs low. Instead, they spent these productivity gains on executive compensation and income distributions to shareholders — benefitting wealthy investors at the expense of workers and their wages. That’s why North Carolina’s workers saw their productivity increase by 86 percent, while their hourly compensation increase by just 22 percent.
  • Although some workers may benefit from the flexibility afforded by voluntary nonstandard work, many workers are stuck in contingent work relationships involuntarily—a trend that increases the distance between employers and their employees, reduces wages, weakens worker bargaining power, and presents challenges that our nation’s outdated, employment-related regulatory structure is unable to adequately address.
  • An important form of contingent employment involves temporary work, nonpermanent jobs provided through staffing agencies that supply labor to client companies on a short-term basis.
  • Temp work is growing much faster in North Carolina than in the nation as a whole, a troubling trend since temp work pays a lot less the state’s average wage. Between 2009 and 2014, the number of temp workers grew by 52 percent in North Carolina, compared to 39 percent in the national economy as a whole. North Carolina temp workers earned just $30,627, far less than $45,022 average wage.
  • Temp work in North Carolina has grown as a share of the economy over the past five years, from 2.4 percent in 2009 to 3.4 percent in 2014. This trend matters for workers because it suggests that temporary work is growing at the expense of more permanent and stable work—and that there’s proportionally less stable work available in North Carolina than in the nation as a whole.
  • North Carolina needs more permanent work, not less, in order to provide workers with the stable, regular incomes they need to make ends meet, ensure financial security for themselves and their families, and ensure long-term upward mobility.

For how policymakers can address the growing challenges related to contingent work, follow us below the fold.

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