Commentary, News

The sobering data for small towns in NC just keep on coming

The latest “Prosperity Watch” update from the folks at the N.C. Budget and Tax Center makes clear that if there is any kind of “Carolina Comeback,” it is pretty much bypassing our small towns:

As of September 2015, 22 of the state’s 25 smaller cities and towns known as micropolitan areas continued to have more unemployed people than before September 2007 just before the Great Recession began.

Persistent high numbers of unemployed are occurring even as the unemployment rate declines.  This rate drop masks the range of challenges in weak labor markets including insufficient job creation to meet the growing population, declining numbers in the labor force and the resulting failure of wages for the average worker to increase.

For the state’s micropolitan areas with elevated numbers of unemployed, 17 also continued to experience a lower number of employed.  Of the three areas where the number of unemployed decline, Mount Airy, Rockingham and Laurinburg, the labor force and number of employed also declined over the period.  This demonstrates that a decline in the number of unemployed alone is not sufficient indication of a healthy labor market.

In order to see improvement in the labor markets of micropolitan areas as well as the state, it is important to look for increases in the number of employed, growth or stability in the labor force AND declines in the number of unemployed.

 

Commentary

NC economy falling further behind the rest of the U.S.

Apologists in the right-wing think tanks continue to do their best to cherry pick and spin the tale of a “Carolina Comeback.” Pretty soon there will be a release from the folks in one of the Pope-funded groups celebrating that North Carolina has the seventh fastest growth rate among states whose names include two “n’s during months with between seven and nine letters in their name.

But when it comes to the reality on the ground for real people, the data surrounding the North Carolina economy remain extremely sobering. NC Justice Center economist Patrick McHugh explains in this new release:

Unemployment declines sharply across the U.S. but grows in North Carolina

October 20, 2015 — Economic growth has reduced the number of unemployed across the United States, but such growth doesn’t seem to be happening in North Carolina.

September labor market data released this morning showed a 14 percent decline in the number of people looking for work over the last year, while the ranks of the unemployed in North Carolina grew over the same period.

“We’re creating jobs, but it’s not enough to actually get everyone back to work,” said Patrick McHugh, economic analyst with the Budget & Tax Center, a project of the NC Justice Center. “With so many people out of work, there’s less pressure on employers to raise pay, which is part of why wages in North Carolina are falling further behind the nation.” Read more

NC Budget and Tax Center

Restricting food assistance ignores the economic facts on the ground

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

Commentary

Dreadful news from Senator Berger’s district

The Charlotte Business Journal reports that MillerCoors will close its brewery in Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger’s hometown of Eden. This is from the CBJ story:

“The closure will affect 520 workers at the brewery, which opened in 1978 and is one of Rockingham County’s largest employers.

Rockingham County Manager Lance Metzger said after the company made the announcement to its employees, they were allowed to go home for the day to spend time with family.

MillerCoors expanded its Eden plant just four years ago with the addition of about 70,000 square feet of warehousing space, and at that time employed about 600 at the plant.”

Meanwhile, Senator Berger will hold a presser this afternoon at 3:00 to tout his latest austerity state budget — you know, like the last two, which were supposed to have turned North Carolina into a job-creating juggernaut. One wonders if he’ll take the opportunity to highlight the new state law (which started in the Senate) that makes unemployment insurance even harder to collect.

Meanwhile, Governor McCrory is on top of things at this critical juncture in state policy debates. His office has distributed one press release today — an announcement that the Guv and First Lady will host an “adopt a pet” event next month at the Governor’s Mansion.

Commentary

NC to commemorate Labor Day by making sorry unemployment system even sorrier

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.