Missing Workers, NC Budget and Tax Center

This is the season of absolutes, a time for reflecting and rendering judgment. Has it been a year to remember or a year to forget? Are we on the right path, or hopelessly lost? The truth is usually somewhere in the middle, but that doesn’t make provocative copy, and so it is often ignored. While some voices in North Carolina would have you believe that we have finally put the Great Recession in the rear-view mirror, the economic damage lingers. As the two charts below show, a year of generally positive economic performance has not erased the imprint that the Recession left on North Carolina.

2014 End of Year Charts_stll not enough jobs

There is still a larger percentage of North Carolinians without employment than before the Great Recession. From the start of the millennium through 2007, more than 62% of North Carolinians had participated in the workforce each year. That rate dropped precipitously in 2008, and kept sliding until it hit a low of roughly 58% in 2011. While there have been modest gains in the last few years, the labor market in North Carolina still has not recovered sufficiently to return employment levels to where they were before the financial crisis.

2014 End of Year Charts_real unemployment high

Proponents of the “Carolina Comeback” story point to the fact that North Carolina’s headline unemployment rate has come down over the last year, so what’s the worry? The problem is that many people have such a hard time finding work that they don’t appear as “unemployed” in the official figures. A BTC analysis of labor data indicates that the real unemployment rate is twice the official level once we consider all of the people who are not currently looking for work because job opportunities are too few. To be clear, this is not a tally of people who have retired or gone back to school, but rather an estimate of what the unemployment rate would be if we include all of the people who would otherwise be expected to be in the labor force based on historic figures. Including these missing workers pushes North Carolina’s real unemployment rate to almost 13%, twice the official estimate.

The central point here is that we cannot lose sight of the work that still remains to be done. While there has been a good deal of encouraging economic news this year, there are still far too many North Carolinians for whom the recovery remains a promise unfulfilled.

Stay tuned over the next several days for a series of BTC posts that illuminate the 2014 economic landscape and the challenges that need to be addressed in 2015.

NC Budget and Tax Center

North Carolina’s falling labor force continues to drive reductions in the state’s unemployment rate, according to the February jobs report released by Division of Employment Security this morning. Over the last year, just 4 in 10 formerly unemployed workers actually found jobs, while the rest dropped out of the labor force.

Despite falling to 6.4 percent since February 2013, the unemployment rate masks the true plight of joblessness in the state.  Since the unemployment rate is calculated by dividing the number of unemployed people by the number of people in the labor force, the unemployment rate can also go down if the labor force shrinks, even if genuine joblessness remains high.  And that’s what happened from February 2013 to February 2014—only 48,000 jobless workers moved into employment over the last year. The rest—another 64,000 workers—just gave up and dropped out of the labor force, continuing a historically unprecedented contraction in the state’s workforce.

If North Carolina is going to see a healthy long-term recovery in employment growth, we need to see all jobless workers moving into jobs, rather than out of the labor force. And we’re not seeing that because job creation remains anemic. In fact, North Carolina created just 46,000 payroll jobs over the last year, according to preliminary estimates released today. This is significantly less than the 69,000 jobs created in 2012, and the 62,000 jobs created in 2011.

Five years into the recovery from the Great Recession, we would expect North Carolina to see a steadily accelerating rate of employment growth each year, yet the numbers released today paint a different picture. While these numbers will certainly be revised in the next year, it is clear that the state’s employment growth is not living up to expectations, and more importantly, is failing to meet the needs of the state’s unemployed.

Read More

NC Budget and Tax Center

Yesterday’s announcement that North Carolina’s unemployment rate had dropped to 8.9 percent last month was met with considerable acclamation in a number of media reports today. Unfortunately, much of this positive commentary was misplaced—despite demonstrating some superficial improvement, the new jobs report is far worse than it first looks.

In fact, the dip in the state’s unemployment rate is due almost entirely to a contracting workforce, rather than genuine new job creation. Specifically, almost 20,000 workers dropped out of the labor force the pool of prime age workers who either have a job or want one—last month, including 15,000 jobless workers who were unable to find employment and gave up searching.

Given that the labor force contracted by 20,000 and the total number of employed workers also dropped by 4,000 at the same time, it appears that the 14,000 drop in the number of unemployed workers is largely the result of jobless workers becoming discouraged—giving up on looking for work and dropping out of the labor force altogether.

As a result of these changes, the labor force—is now at the lowest level since July 2012, erasing almost 9 months worth of gains. Even more troubling, the total number of employed people in North Carolina also dropped to the lowest levels since October 2012, suggesting that North Carolina’s economy is continuing to struggle in generating long-term sustainable job creation.

In other words, unemployed workers moved out of the labor force altogether, rather than moving into new jobs.

Read More