Latest labor market data highlight NC’s economic struggles, need for more federal assistance

Even before the jump in COVID-19 cases related to holiday travel became clear, local labor market data for November showed the ongoing consequences of federal and state inaction. The most recent aid bill passed by Congress in December provided some long-overdue assistance, but not nearly enough to get families through to the end of the pandemic.

While it’s certainly good Congress finally passed more COVID-19 assistance in December after months of inaction, the financial bridge won’t span the gulf that still exists between where we are now and the other side of this pandemic. As the latest labor market data confirm, COVID-19 is still inflicting the worst pain on many families with the least financial cushion, so leaders in Raleigh and Washington, D.C., still have a lot of work to do to sustain people during this unprecedented crisis.

Economic challenges facing North Carolina include: 

  • Largest cities recovering faster, raising risk of another unbalanced recovery: Some of the worst job losses during the first few months of the pandemic occurred in North Carolina’s largest cities and tourist regions. Over the past few months, cities like Raleigh, Durham, and Charlotte have recovered more of the jobs initially lost during the pandemic, while the scope of the persistent losses remains larger in regional job centers like Asheville, Morganton, Goldsboro, Greensboro, and Rocky Mount. This raises the distinct risk of repeating the experience from the Great Recession when a handful of faster-growing cities recovered years before many other communities got closer to pre-recession levels of employment.
  • COVID-19 has erased all job gains, or deepened losses, since the start of the Great Recession in a majority of counties: Nearly 60 of North Carolina’s 100 counties had fewer jobs in November of this year than before the Great Recession. Many parts of the state had never recovered all of the jobs that disappeared in the Great Recession, so the losses during COVID-19 are further compounding a long-term problem. In many other counties, all or nearly all of the jobs that had been created since 2009 were wiped out in the first few months of the COVID-19 pandemic.

  • North Carolina’s regional employment engines have seen the worst employment losses. Cities across North Carolina that often serve as the employment hubs for their entire regions have been particularly hard hit by the COVID-19 pandemic. Regional job centers that have experienced some of the worst declines since February include Asheville (-8.4%), Hickory-Lenoir-Morganton (-8.3%), Goldsboro (-7.8%), Greensboro-High Point (-7.0%), Greenville (-6.9%), Fayetteville (-6.9%), Wilmington (-6.7%), Rocky Mount (-6.7%), New Bern (-6.6%), Winston-Salem (-6.2%), Durham-Chapel Hill (-6.2%), Raleigh (-6.2%), Charlotte-Concord-Gastonia (-5.8%), and Burlington (-4.7%).

For charts showing the most recent labor data and COVID-19 job data, visit the Budget & Tax Center’s Labor Market page at www.ncjustice.org/labormarket.

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

Patrick McHugh is the Research Manager at the NC Budget & Tax Center — a project of the North Carolina Justice Center.

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