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February labor market data: Rural NC needs lots of love

Since February of 2017, North Carolina’s unemployment rate has fallen from 5 percent to 4.2 percent. But the lower unemployment rate, with its frequent fluctuations, simply reflects the prosperity of urban centers of the state and masks the struggles of rural North Carolina, where in many places things are worse than before the Great Recession.

February’s labor market data showed that more than half of the state’s counties have unemployment rates higher than the state average. Of these 57 counties, 36 are concentrated in rural Eastern North Carolina. This means that 63 percent of the counties with unemployment rates higher than the state average are clustered in the eastern part of the state.

NC counties (orange) with unemployment rates higher than state average (Feb 2019)

A more in-depth look into February’s labor market release shows that since the beginning of the Great Recession, 28 Eastern N.C. counties lost approximately 50,000 jobs, or 8 percent of their collective employment. This is a starkly different reality from Wake and Mecklenburg counties, whose employment has increased 33 and 36 percent respectively since December of 2007. There were 21 Double Whammy counties in February — those who have fewer jobs presently than at the beginning of the Great Recession and have also lost jobs year-over-year. A particularly startling example of this is Washington County, which lost 3 percent of its jobs since February 2018 but almost 30 percent from the start of the Great Recession. It is evident that things are not headed in the right direction.

(Above) 28 eastern N.C. counties that have lost 50,000 jobs (8%) collectively since the Great Recession

It is clear from analysis of the labor market over time that rural North Carolina is not recovering from economic and natural shocks, and state lawmakers need to invest in policies to help these communities, not in tax cuts that mostly help the wealthy and large corporations. It is far past time we focus on an economic strategy that supports a full recovery for families throughout all of the state’s communities.

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