NC Budget and Tax Center

Eastern NC is suffering

As North Carolina’s unemployment rate continues to decline, today’s local labor market data reveal an alarming trend for Eastern North Carolina. There are 20 counties in this region with unemployment rates at least a full percentage point higher than the state average (4.3%).

While North Carolina, particularly urban counties, are experiencing a gradual recovery, rural and eastern North Carolina is facing a much different reality. There are nine counties in the East that presently have higher unemployment than before the Great Recession. In December of 2007 total unemployed in these counties registered 12,721 while in April of this year it stood at 13,069.

Wilson County, NC

The epicenter of North Carolina’s recovery seems to run along interstates 40 and 85 but it has bypassed the 95 corridor of our state. In the wake of Hurricane Matthew, a robust state and federal investment oriented towards employing local residents and contracting with local businesses could go a long way to driving improvements in Eastern NC and for the state as a whole.

Beyond leveraging targeted investments to address the damage of Hurricane Matthew, it is clear that the state’s unemployment insurance system is failing counties with higher unemployment rates than the state average by tying the number of weeks to the state unemployment rate and not reflecting local labor market realities.

Highlights from this month’s labor market data include:

Persistent Unemployment in Eastern NC: Unemployment rates in Wilson, Tyrrell, Nash, Hoke Sampson, Halifax, Martin, Wayne and Washington counties remain above pre-Recession levels. Wilson County, for example, has almost 15 percent more unemployed residents than in December 2007. After nearly eight years of recovery, more than 13,000 residents in these counties are without jobs.

Disappearing labor forces: Further, Sampson, Wilson, Robeson, Northampton, Halifax, Martin, Richmond, Hyde, Scotland, Chowan, Washington and Tyrrell counties have all lost 10 percent or more of their labor forces since 2007. In particular, Tyrrell, Washington, Chowan, and Scotland have lost 31, 26, 22 and 19 percent of their labor forces respectively since before the recession.

-Cities in Eastern NC face serious challenges: Cities in Eastern NC such as Fayetteville, Goldsboro, and Wilmington have seen their unemployment rate either rise or remain flat since 2007. Wilmington and Goldsboro have seen their unemployment rates rise to 6 and 8 percent respectively. The disparity with North Carolina’s larger cities is disheartening as Charlotte and Winston-Salem saw declines in unemployed people of 6 and 12 percent respectively.

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