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The lead editorial in this morning’s edition of Raleigh’s News & Observer tells it like it is with respect to the issue of unemployment insurance and North Carolina’s harshest-in-the-nation decision to cut off benefits to folks in need:

“It was one of the more shameful moments in the not-exactly-illustrious rule of Republicans in the General Assembly and the governor’s mansion. Last summer, GOP lawmakers cut state unemployment benefits knowing it would mean that jobless North Carolinians, many of them innocent victims of the Great Recession, would lose emergency federal benefits.

North Carolina was the only state to reduce unemployment benefits even though federal law required states to maintain benefit amounts to qualify for the extended federal payments. Gov. Pat McCrory and Republican lawmakers justified leaving thousands and thousands of families in the cold by saying that extended unemployment benefits discouraged people from going back to work. Read More

Governor McCrory is at it again—incorrectly claiming that his decision to dramatically cut unemployment benefits is responsible for turning around the state’s job market. During a visit to Morganton over the weekend, the Governor stated:

 “There’s nothing worse than if you have a job opening and someone decides to take a government check instead. So we had to bring the two together,” he said. “We made a decision [to cut unemployment benefits]. And that decision alone is the one lone factor, in comparison to any other state, which I think has helped North Carolina lower its unemployment rate drastically in the last five months.”

While the Governor is correct that the state’s unemployment rate has dropped over the last year (from a revised 8.8 percent in January 2013 to 6.7 percent a year later), he couldn’t be more wrong about why the rate has dropped—and what it means for the state’s economy. The unemployment rate is falling because the labor force is contracting, not because jobless workers are moving into jobs.

Let’s take these one at a time.

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Jim Lind is a decorated US Air Force vet and a software development professional who’s done it all over a 39-year career: managing and developing for commercial industries, for the military, for education systems, for space systems, you name it.

He’s also been unemployed since early 2009 when the Great Recession resulted in major layoffs at his and so many other workplaces. When Jim finally found work for a contractor for Amtrak, the sequester cut that short just 10 weeks into the job.WP_20140220_005-edit-600-web

Jim was one of eight unemployed professionals who met with U.S. Rep. David Price and Wake Tech President Stephen Scott last week to explain the human toll exacted by North Carolina’s reckless changes to its unemployment insurance program, detailed by a recent Budget and Tax Center report on the issue. They also spoke about how important the programs at the community college have been for them.

“The reason I am here is to talk about who the unemployed are. Who are we really. Myths are not helpful for becoming re-employed,” he said.

Jim explained that the federal extensions of unemployment at a higher weekly rate than is available now were a life saver for him, providing the most basic assistance to eat and pay some bills.

“I had to count slices of bread, eggs in the fridge, measure things in ounces, plan when to wash my clothes in order to be able to pay the rent where I was living,” he said. Plus, even looking for work in today’s world requires expensive tools like a cell phone, an Internet connection and computer, a car. “I don’t know how cutting people off…is helpful for people finding work.” Read More

The fiscal policy wonks at the Budget and Tax Center are out with a new and detailed analysis of the impact of last year’s harshest-in-the-nation cuts to unemployment insurance that were imposed by Gov. McCrory and the General Assembly. The findings? They ain’t pretty:

“Cuts to unemployment insurance in North Carolina have made it harder for jobless families to make ends meet and get back on their feet in an economy that is still providing too few jobs to go around. Contrary to what proponents of the cuts claim, a recent decline in unemployment in North Carolina is largely driven by people leaving the workforce because they cannot find jobs, not due to employment growth. And far from helping the state’s economy, the cuts have left thousands of North Carolinians with less money to spend on food, clothing and other necessities, which also harms local businesses.

Specifically:

• The average weekly benefit for unemployed North Carolinians plunged Read More

It’s the myth that will not die.

In the ongoing debate over the impact of last year’s draconian cuts to unemployment benefits, we keep hearing the story that reducing benefits for the jobless has helped reduce the unemployment rate.

If only this were true.

While the unemployment rate has undoubtedly fallen, this is because unemployed workers have simply fallen out of the labor force, rather than moving into employment—a trend the unemployment rate simply doesn’t take into account. Just this point was made yesterday in a New York Times piece by Annie Lowrey profiling North Carolina’s economy, which noted that for every unemployed person who moved into employment, another two unemployed people gave up looking for work and dropped out of the labor force altogether.

In fact, the state’s labor force contracted more than 2.5 percent in 2013 at the same time that the state’s population grew by almost 1 percent.  And anytime the labor force shrinks while the population grows, the economy is moving in the wrong direction.

If the Times piece gets it right about the connection between unemployment benefit cuts and the shrinking labor force, it is a bit too trusting of Governor McCrory’s claims that his plan helped boost job creation in the state.

Perhaps Ms. Lowrey should have noted Ned Barnett’s important point from last week—by any measure, employment growth in 2013 was the weakest of any year since the end of the recession. North Carolina created just 37,700 jobs from January to November last year, almost half the 66,000 jobs created over the same period in 2012 and still short of the jobs created in 2011 and 2010. At the rate of employment growth achieved in 2013, it will take another 13 years for the state to create enough jobs to replace all those lost during the recession and keep up with population growth.

If Governor McCrory was correct that cutting unemployment benefits forced unemployed workers to find work, then we would expect to see unemployed workers moving into employment. But we don’t—we actually see the opposite.  There were actually 9,000 fewer people employed in November than in January—again, the worst performance since 2010. This means that unemployed people aren’t moving into jobs, they’re just dropping out of the labor force altogether.

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