unemploymentThere was a fine op-ed in this morning’s edition of Raleigh’s News & Observer by an unemployed man from Salemburg named Bobby Parker about the sorry state of North Carolina’s bottom-of-the-barrel unemployment insurance system. And make no mistake; it is sorry. As a result of legislation passed in 2013, North Carolina’s once middle-of-the-pack system is now near the bottom in the nation in just about every category.

Consider the following stats from the U.S Department of Labor:

• Only 15% of the unemployed received benefits for the first quarter of 2015. This was 47th in the country.
• NC has an average weekly benefit amount of $231.30/week which ranks us 47th in the country.
• The average duration of benefits is 12.9 weeks, which ranks us 45th in the country.

Here is where things stood before the changes contained in House Bill 4 hit:

• 39% of the unemployed received benefits during the second quarter of 2013. This placed 24th in the country.
• NC had average weekly benefit amount of $301.06 which ranked 25th
• The average duration of benefits was 15.9 weeks, which ranked us 31st.

But wait, as Mr. Parker (and yesterday’s Progressive Voices contributor Steve Ford) explain, things are about to get worse. It turns out that even with the precipitous fall documented above, state lawmakers want to demand more from the unemployed by increasing their work search requirements. Here’s Mr. Parker:

“Now, state leaders want to make sure that you’re not sitting on your duff lapping up that $350 to lavish on, say, utilities to power your Internet job search, gas to get you to an interview or … food?

So they’re ready to require the unemployed to make and record at least five contacts per week with potential employers. Currently, the state requires two such contacts per week.

Simple and reasonable enough? Well, yes, it would be if those contacts were likely to be productive. But even with the current mandate of two, I find myself applying for jobs that I know I’m not going to get because I don’t have the experience or skills that match the available work.”

As Ford explains, the bill to make this all happen now sits on Governor McCrory’s desk awaiting his signature. He has until next Thursday to decide what to do — thus making it almost certain that not only will North Carolina make its scrooge-like system even stingier, it will do so during the week that is designed to honor workers of the nation. All in all, it’s an apt gesture from a group of politicians who almost never miss a chance to remind average workers of how little they are valued.


As state leaders deride the unemployed as lazy good-for-nothings and slash their insurance benefits, the news about finding a job job remains discouraging for a large swath of North Carolinians. Here’s the latest sobering news about the “Carolina Comeback” from economist Patrick McHugh:

“Unemployment is still a major problem in North Carolina. The headline unemployment rate has inched up from 5.3% to 5.9% since the beginning of the year, but that still doesn’t tell the whole story. When people who have been forced out of the job market since the Great Recession by a lack of job openings are included, the actual unemployment rate is still in double digits, almost twice what is commonly reported. This gap between the official unemployment rate and the reality on the ground can skew the policy conversation, making it look like the good times are back when that’s not really the case.

The US economy has improved since facing down the prospect of complete collapse a few years ago, which has buoyed employment prospects in North Carolina. However, any talk of a complete recovery is grossly overstated. There are likely more than 230,000 North Carolinians who would like to work, but don’t show up in the official figures. When those “missing workers” are included, the total tally of North Carolinians who can’t find a job rises past half a million. Read More


unemploymentVeteran Raleigh News & Observer political reporter Rob Christensen, a confirmed centrist who has sometimes frustrated progressives down through the years with his extremely high tolerance for conservative policy blather, is right on the money this morning with a new and powerful takedown of the state’s Scrooge-like unemployment insurance policies.

In addition to explaining and dissecting the state’s U.I. system and the recent conservative-designed changes that have made it the “stingiest…in the country” in succinct terms, Christensen takes an important  extra step and speaks from the heart in the conclusion to his essay:

“So why are our political leaders behaving this way when most of their constituents punch a clock or fill out a time card?

Here are several thoughts. Businesses bankroll most of the legislator’s campaigns and finance a battery of lobbyists on Jones Street. There is almost no one to speak for people who get laid off.

There is also a view among some conservatives that unemployment insurance is, in the words of the Civitas Institute, “paying people not to work.’’

This view, I might add, is contrary to my life experience. Three of my grandparents worked in a textile mill. My father was a factory worker. I worked in a textile mill and other manufacturing plants in my early years.

I have known lots of hard working people – family, friends, neighbors, and colleagues – who have been laid off. It is a terrifying experience. You don’t know how you will take care of your family or meet your mortgage payments. Often your self-esteem takes a beating. The modest amount of unemployment insurance doesn’t even begin to cover living expenses.

There are apparently some people who believe the American worker is a slug just waiting for a chance to sit on his or her duff. I think they are wrong. I believe most Americans just want a chance to earn a decent living.”

Click here to read and share the entire column. It deserves it.


The latest from analysts at the N.C. Justice Center:

July Jobs Figures Show NC Falling Behind the Nation

RALEIGH (August 21, 2015) — The July labor market data released this morning show North Carolina continues to lag behind the nation in a few vital ways.
Wages in North Carolina are not growing as fast as the nation, and are actually down slightly compared to a year ago. Furthermore, the unemployment rate in North Carolina has gone up over the last six months while unemployment nationwide has fallen.

“North Carolina’s economy remains far from its position prior to the recession,” said Patrick McHugh, economic analyst with the Budget & Tax Center, a project of the NC Justice Center. “This reality is reflected in wage levels and a labor force participation rate that have yet to reach their pre-recession levels.”
Highlights of the July data include:

• Growing wage gap between North Carolina workers and the national average: For North Carolina, the average weekly paycheck came in at $763.49 in June. When factoring in inflation, the real buying power of wages in North Carolina remains well below pre-recession levels. Wages nationwide have grown faster than inflation over the last year. All told, this means that the average weekly North Carolina paycheck is now $101 less than the national average.
• 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 nearly 280,000 North Carolinians looking for work, approximately 64,000 more than before the Great Recession.
• Percent of North Carolinians employed still near historic lows: July numbers showed 57.6 percent of North Carolinians were employed. This leaves North Carolina well below the level of employment that was commonplace before the Great Recession. In the mid-2000s, employment levels reached a peak of about 63 percent. The percent of North Carolinians with a job remains below the national average, as it has been since the Great Recession.
• Labor force participation grows, but still below pre-recession norms: The size of the labor force, a measure of people who are employed or are looking for work, grew by just under 3 percent over the year. While this is a good sign that some workers are returning to the labor force, the share of North Carolinians who are employed or looking for work is still lower than before the Great Recession.
• US making much more progress in reducing unemployment than North Carolina: Even while the state continues to add jobs, growth is not enough to push unemployment below the 5 percent threshold that most economists see as the top-end of a healthy labor market. While the national unemployment rate has come down over the last six months, the ranks of the unemployed have grown here in North Carolina.

For more context on the economic choices facing North Carolina, check out a recent report on building an innovation economy for all and the Budget & Tax Center’s weekly Prosperity Watch platform.


New from our colleagues at the Budget and Tax Center:

Much of North Carolina has still not recovered from the Great Recession, according to the latest employment data for May.

Roughly two-thirds of North Carolina’s counties have fewer people working today than before the recession, and almost a quarter of the counties in North Carolina saw employment decline since May of 2014, a distressing sign given that it comes amidst generally strong national growth.

“The picture in many small towns and rural communities is not good,” said Patrick McHugh, Economic Analyst for the Budget & Tax Center, a project of the NC Justice Center. “Even in some cities that are largely seen as doing better, wages have not kept up with inflation over the last seven years.”

Notable data from the labor market release include:

  • 88 of North Carolina’s 100 counties have more people looking for work today than before the Great Recession.
  • 64 of North Carolina’s 100 counties have not gotten back to pre-recession levels of employment.
  • 14 of North Carolina’s 15 metropolitan areas still have more people looking for work than before the recession.
  • Adjusting for inflation, only metropolitan areas (Charlotte, Durham-Chapel Hill, Greenville, New Bern, and Wilmington) have seen better than 4 percent growth in wages over the last year.
  • Wages have not kept up with inflation in eight of North Carolina’s 15 metropolitan areas.

“The current period of economic growth is not creating enough jobs in many communities and most workers are not seeing their paychecks grow,” McHugh said. “We’re doing better than a few years ago, but this economy still isn’t working for a lot of working North Carolina.”

The Budget and Tax Center provides summaries of each county’s current labor market data, and how each county has fared since the start of the recession.