NC Budget and Tax Center

Latest job numbers reveal the regional winners and losers in the NC economy

Last month’s labor market data show a trend of steady growth in urban North Carolina while rural parts of the state are recovering much more slowly. This marked growth in metropolitan statistical areas such as Charlotte-Concord-Gastonia and Raleigh buoy the state’s number of employed and are driving down the collective unemployment rate. However, according to April’s labor market data, the state’s concentrated showers of growth have not rained prosperity on all.

There are seven metropolitan and five micropolitan statistical areas that have seen double-digit employment growth since the start of the Great Recession. Most of these statistical areas are clustered along urban corridors and have apparently benefited from being part of connected economies. Conversely, there are seven isolated micropolitan statistical areas that have not recovered from the downturn. They have seen their employment levels decrease by double digits since December of 2007. Forty-five counties have lost a total of 67,000 jobs since the beginning of the Great Recession. As many of these counties are situated in the state’s coastal plain, higher temperatures and a warmer Atlantic Ocean make it more likely that destruction from stronger and more frequent hurricanes will create recurring economic shocks that further confound recovery.

Here are a couple of indicators illustrating some of the dramatically different regional outcomes:

  • Metro and Micro employment growth: Raleigh (33%), Charlotte-Concord-Gastonia (29%), Oxford (24%), Wilmington (22%), Durham-Chapel-Hill (20%), Boone (19%), Asheville (18%), Burlington (18%), Pinehurst-Southern Pines (16%), Greenville (14%), Dunn (12%), and Brevard (10%) all have seen double-digit employment growth since December of 2007.
  • Employment loss: Seven micropolitan statistical areas have lost jobs since the beginning of the Great Recession. Henderson, Lumberton, Wilson, Roanoke Rapids, Laurinburg, Rockingham, and Forest City have seen their employment decrease by double-digit percentages.  Forest City, in Western N.C., fared the worst, losing 17 percent of their jobs since December of 2007. However, the other six micro areas are clustered in the Sandhills and northeastern North Carolina, areas prone to damage from late-year hurricanes which create compounding challenges for economic recovery.

The bottom line: Our collective prosperity in North Carolina is inexorably tied to everyone; from the fishermen off the Outer Banks to schoolchildren in Robeson County. Tax cuts will not solve the economic challenges that require proper investment in infrastructure and resilience-based policy that prepare us for shocks, both economic and natural, that are likely to visit our state.

For charts showing numbers for all counties and micro/metro areas and for county-level data downloads, visit www.ncjustice.org/LaborMarket.

For more context on the economic choices facing North Carolina, check out the Budget & Tax Center’s weekly Prosperity Watch report.

William Munn is a Policy Analyst with the Budget & Tax Center, a project of the NC Justice Center.

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