Archives

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

NC Budget and Tax Center

This week’s Prosperity Watch uses newly available data from the Economic Policy Institute to shed light on the experience of unemployment for different groups in North Carolina.  While the state performs better than the nation by having a lower barrier to employment for African-American and Latino workers in particular, the unemployment rate for these groups still remains far above where it was before the Great Recession started and is still greater than that for white workers. You can check out the full Prosperity Watch here.

The Economic Policy Institute data is presented in this interactive map that shows North Carolina’s better than average performance in the race to recovery for all groups but the continued need to focus public policies that would reduce barriers for workers of color in our state.

 

Commentary

In case you missed it over the weekend, Patrick Conway, the head of the economics Department at UNC Chapel Hill had an important op-ed in Raleigh’s News & Observer about the true state of the North Carolina economy. As Conway explains, the recent rosy claims of state officials and their apologists in the right-wing think tanks  are ignoring a huge, under-reported issue: 300,000 “missing” workers who have simply evaporated from the workforce. Here’s Conway:

There’s a large disconnect in perceptions of the current state of North Carolina’s labor market.

Gov. Pat McCrory stated a positive view in a recent address in Chapel Hill: “We’ve had one of the largest drops in unemployment [rates] in the country.” His more general contention was that the state’s labor-market difficulties are “being resolved” by tough choices made by his administration.

A contrary view was voiced by a recent letter-writer who said we’re still in the midst of a terrible recession.

These views seem contradictory, but it is easy to reconcile the two. McCrory ignores the 300,000 working-age adults who have dropped out of the labor force since 2010. If we assert that they’re gone, our unemployment rate is a high but acceptable 6.8 percent. If we recognize that these are productive residents who have temporarily stopped looking for work, then our unemployment rate is a terrifying 12.4 percent.

Conway goes on to say that simply ignoring these missing workers will not solve the problem: Read More

Commentary

The lead editorial in Raleigh’s News & Observer this morning rightfully laments the fact that North Carolina’s economic recovery appears to be petering out while other states rebound more quickly.

In the end, however, there’s no mystery. The persistence of unemployment points to how badly the job market deteriorated and how tax cuts and spending cuts do little to restore it. North Carolina has cut taxes in a way that disproportionally benefits higher earners while expanding taxes or removing exemptions that helped middle-income and low-income earners and retirees. Tax breaks for the wealthy tend to go into savings while a tax break for lower income earners would have gone directly into the economy.

North Carolina’s cuts in state funding for education have an outsized impact on the economy. Unlike many states where local governments bear most of the cost of schools, North Carolina funds education primarily from the state level. Meanwhile, North Carolina’s refusal to expand Medicaid has cost the state’s economy billions of dollars in federal funds and reduced or blunted employment by hospitals.

There’s not much state government can do to escape the influence of the national economy. But states can do more to soften the effects of a national recession and speed the effects of a recovery. North Carolina should spend aggressively on education, participate fully in the Affordable Care Act and focus tax breaks lower down the income scale.

That’s not being done, and the economic pain is being extended.

Meanwhile, an editorial in the Charlotte Observer offers a glimmer of hope on this front in the form of additional confirmation from the McCrory administration that it has finally recognized one of its biggest blunders when it comes to pumping dollars into the state’s economy — the failure to expand Medicaid:

Read More

News

North Carolina’s unemployment rate shot up in August, as the state’s labor force continues to shrink.

The state had 6.8 percent of its labor force actively looking for jobs in August, an increase from 6.5 percent the prior month, according to the monthly jobs report released by the N.C. Department of Commerce’s Labor and Economic Analysis Division.

August’s unemployment, however, is still a big drop from the 8 percent unemployment rate North Carolina experienced a year ago, in August 2013.

The jobs report (click here to read) also show that the number of employed workers dropped by 28,666 from the prior month to 4.34 million while the state’s overall labor force (which consists of those in jobs and those looking for jobs) dropped by nearly 20,000 to 4,66 million in a month’s time.

Unemployed workers increased by more than 10,000 from July to August, but the 314,962 people looking for work in August. That’s down from a year earlier, when 372,467 North Carolinians were out of work. Read More