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Crossposted on NC Policy Watch

Over the past few months, Governor McCrory has been claiming his policies—especially cutting unemployment benefits—are responsible for reducing the state’s unemployment rate. He’s even branded this the “Carolina Comeback.” But as it turns out, the Governor’s claims largely rest on treating jobs numbers like fruit—like apples, oranges, and cherries. In fact, the evidence for a Carolina Comeback is just plain rotten, and we’re still waiting for a real recovery in the state’s jobs market.

Most economists prefer to compare apples to apples by looking at job growth from year to year. And by any comparison of apples, the year stretching from December 2012 to December 2013 was worse than the year before.  Specifically, the year between December 2011 and 2012 saw the creation of 89,900 jobs, while the same period in 2013 saw the creation of just 64,500 jobs.

Even worse, over the last year, only three of every ten jobless workers who moved out of unemployment actually moved into a job in 2013. The rest just left the labor force altogether. Since December 2012, the labor force contracted by 66,500 workers, more than 1.5 percent, to the lowest levels in three years. At the same time, only 32,600 unemployed workers found employment. And all this while the state’s working age population continued to grow.

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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

The folks at Pew Research released new poll results today confirming that Americans are increasingly sick and tired of the nation’s growing economic inequality and want government to do something about it. Even sizable percentages of Republicans favor strong action.

“There is broad public agreement that economic inequality has grown over the past decade. But as President Obama prepares for Tuesday’s State of the Union, where he is expected to unveil proposals for dealing with inequality and poverty, there are wide partisan differences over how much the government should – and can – do to address these issues.

The new national survey by the Pew Research Center and USA TODAY, conducted Jan. 15-19 among 1,504 adults, finds that 65% believe the gap between the rich and everyone else has increased in the last 10 years. This view is shared by majorities across nearly all groups in the public, including 68% of Democrats and 61% of Republicans.”

And while there is a significant partisan divide, overall majorities were large for some common sense solutions and assessments of the source of the problem: 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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