NC Budget and Tax Center

The General Assembly used a few of the last hours of the 2015 session to cut back how long unemployed North Carolinians in economically distressed counties can receive food assistance. Even though this weeks’ labor market data show that 9 out of 10 counties have more out of work people than job openings, the new rule would cut unemployed people off regardless of how hard it is to find work. The change could take food off more than 100,000 tables across North Carolina, and will pull money out of already struggling local economies, a doubly bad deal.

The one-sentence provision in the ratified bill (see section 16.a) permanently prevents the state from seeking to extend food assistance for people who can’t find work in their local economies, except in times of emergency. The federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) allows states to temporarily waive a three-month time limit for unemployed childless adults who live in areas where few jobs are available.77 waiver counties - Updated for Blog Post

Recognizing that cutting off food aid to areas where there aren’t enough jobs hurts entire local economies, North Carolina sought this waiver for 77 of our 100 counties earlier this year. If the Governor signs this measure and SB119 into law, the ban on the waiver would go into effect in July 2016. Without the modest support of SNAP (formerly known as food stamps), between 85,000 and 105,000 North Carolinians would be subject to the three month-time limit and potentially will not be able to purchase food at their local grocery stores, depressing consumer demand further and driving use of food banks already stretched to capacity. Read More

NC Budget and Tax Center

The March employment numbers out today show another month of positive, but relatively lackluster economic performance in North Carolina. The unemployment rate in North Carolina has now been essentially flat for the last five months and the number of unemployed North Carolinians has actually increased in the first three months of 2015.

According to analysis of the latest labor market data by the Budget & Tax Center, employment levels have edged up in the last year, but are still well below the pre-recession norm. In fact, a smaller share of North Carolinians have a job today than during the worst of the recession that followed the 9/11 attacks.

“The North Carolina economy has been idling along for several months and continues to be weaker than it was in 2007,” said Patrick McHugh of the North Carolina Budget and Tax Center. “The worry now is that we’ll see a new normal, with lower levels of employment and paychecks that don’t go as far.”

Other highlights of the March data include:

  • Unemployment rate not making gains: After falling dramatically from 2009 through the third quarter of 2014, the state and national unemployment rates have flattened out in recent months. Even while the state continues to add jobs, growth is not enough to push unemployment below the 5% threshold that most economists see as the top-end of a healthy labor market. Part of the flattening out may be attributable to people coming back into the labor force, which would be good news. However, it is still troubling to see the labor market falling well short of full employment.
  • Still more North Carolinians out of work than before the Great Recession: Even though the ranks of the unemployed have declined over the past year, there are still more than a quarter-million North Carolinians looking for work, approximately 10% more than at the end of 2007.
  • Percent of North Carolinians employed still near historic lows: March numbers showed 57.5% of North Carolinians were employed, which is up 1 percentage point from March 2014. However, this still leaves North Carolina well below the level of employment that was commonplace before the Great Recession. In the mid-2000’s, employment levels were generally between 62% and 63%. Moreover, the level of employment in North Carolina has fallen behind the national average, when the state was generally at or above the nation in the pre-recession period.

For more context on the current state of the North Carolina economy, check out a recent report that reviews the last seven years of economic data and the Budget & Tax Center’s weekly Prosperity Watch platform.


NC Budget and Tax Center

For all of the positive growth numbers touted at the statewide level in the last year, the recovery ranges from partial to virtually nonexistent in many parts of the state. The headline unemployment rate dropped for most counties between February 2014 and this year, but unfortunately that is not a sign that all in well. As can be seen when you look at the current labor market conditions and how counties stack up to where they were before the recession, there are many communities where employment is still below pre-recession levels, some communities that actually lost jobs during the last year, and people looking for work outnumber job openings in most counties.

Most counties have not returned to pre-recession levels of employment. While the last few years have seen the state make some good economic strides as the national economy has continued to improve, it has not done enough to get most communities back to the level of vitality that existed before the Great recession. The majority of counties in North Carolina (70 out of 100), had fewer jobs in February 2015 than they did in 2007. In fact, the unemployment rate is still higher now than it was in 2007 in more than 80 counties across the state.

Unemployed people outnumber job openings in almost every county. Only 8 counties in North Carolina have at least as many job openings as unemployed people. Many counties have 2 or 3 unemployed people for every job opening, and in some counties there are as many as 5 or 6 unemployed people competing for every job. The number of people who are looking for work did come down in most counties from February 2014 through this year, but there are still far more people looking for work than there are jobs. In fact, roughly three-quarters of the counties had more people looking for work in February of this year than they did in 2007. There are still too few jobs for those who want to work which not impacts jobless workers but everyone as employers aren’t compelled to provide wage increases to keep or attract talent.

Many counties took a step back over the last year. While it is cause for pause that most counties have not returned to pre-recession levels of employment, the fact that almost half of the counties (47) lost employment from February of 2014 to February of 2015 is cause for a full-on double-take. 2014 was the strongest year for job creation since the start of the Great Recession, yet nearly half of the counties lost jobs during that time. That’s an extremely alarming sign. It is natural to expect some counties to grow faster than others, but a truly strong growth period should not be leaving so much of the state worse off.

All told, the February county labor market data show that North Carolina is not uniformly on the road to prosperity. There are pockets of very strong growth in and around the major metropolitan areas, but the labor market outside of the urban centers is much weaker. As the General Assembly talks about another round of tax cuts, and spending more on incentives, remember that these have been the proposed answers for several years, and they have not delivered the goods for many communities in our state.


srs-unemployment3While it is positive news that fewer North Carolinians were unemployed in 2014 than in 2013, the reality is that we are still far from pre-recession employment rates.

As the Budget and Tax Center pointed out a in a release today:

Despite the decline in metro area unemployment year over year, there were still more unemployed North Carolinians in nearly all metro areas in December 2014 than there were in December 2007.

The latest data from the BTC’s County Labor Market Watch and Recession Watch shows that:

Many counties were better off in December 2007 than December 2014. There are still 24 North Carolina counties with unemployment rates higher than what they had in December 2007. There are 60 counties that had more unemployed workers in December 2014 than they did in December 2007, and 72 counties had fewer people in the labor force this past December than in December 2007.

Based on the data, slightly over half of North Carolina counties have an unemployment rate that is higher than the statewide 5.5 percent unemployment rate. Graham County at 12.3 percent has the highest unemployment rate in the state. These numbers are evidence that while the employment situation is improving in some counties, others are clearly not getting the help they need to recover from the recession.

“Any approach to badly needed economic development must consider this uneven recovery,” said Alexandra Forter Sirota, director of the BTC. “Lawmakers must pursue tools that deliver targeted support to grow opportunity in communities that continue to struggle now seven years after the start of the Great Recession.”

NC Budget and Tax Center

Yesterday, the Labor and Economic Division released October labor market data for all 100 counties.  The headline of the release was that the unemployment rate had dropped in 98 counties, or nearly all, in the past month.  It sounds like good news, and it is, but the new data also show that many parts of the state are still struggling mightily. As the Budget and Tax Center has noted before, you have to look deeper than the headline unemployment number to know whether employment prospects are actually improving.

Such a look behind the unemployment rate does show signs of labor markets improving year-over-year, primarily along the lines seen at the state and national level.  The number of unemployed people has declined since October 2013 in all counties and a majority of counties have seen gains in employment.

But it is not “mission accomplished” time yet. The October county data contain worrying signs that should not be glossed over.

The majority of counties have not caught up to pre-recession levels of employment. Employment prospects are still slow to emerge in many counties, particularly in the rural parts of the state. Sixty six counties have more unemployed people in October 2014 than they did in December 2007.

Even more concerning, roughly one-third of the counties registered declines in employment from October 2013 through October of this year. Beyond not having caught up to pre-recession employment, many parts of our state have taken a step back over the last year. Again, this troubling trend is most concentrated in rural counties. Read More