New jobs numbers: Big problems plague NC’s uneven economic recovery

Expert says NC must do more to train, connect and support workers

N.C. Budget and Tax Center economist Patrick McHugh reports today that local labor market number for April show an economic recovery for North Carolina that remains very much “a work in progress.”

NC Budget & Tax Center Research Manager Patrick McHugh

McHugh says that while businesses in some industries have struggled with hiring in recent weeks, many of the people who lost jobs due to the COVID-19 pandemic still can’t find work. what’s more, many of the people who were paid the lowest wages before COVID-19 suffered the worst employment losses and continue to need significant support to find new jobs.

“There are more people looking for work in most North Carolina communities than before COVID-19, so we need to really focus on knocking down the barriers keeping people from accessing jobs,” said McHugh in a news release. “Some of the challenges that businesses are having in finding employees are rooted in the financial barriers people face in getting back into the labor market, and a lot of people need supports like access to child care or training for the new jobs that are being created.”

This is from from McHugh’s analysis:

Economic challenges facing North Carolina include: 

  • More people looking for work in nearly every North Carolina community: Businesses’ challenges in finding employees are not rooted in a lack of people wanting to work. Figures show more residents were trying to find work in April 2021 than before COVID-19 in 88 of 100 North Carolina counties, every major metropolitan area, and most smaller cities.
  • Fewer people connected to the labor market in almost every community: The number of people working or looking for work is lower than it was before COVID-19 in all but three of North Carolina’s 100 counties. In addition to there not being enough jobs for everyone who wants to work, this fact shows a lot of North Carolinians face barriers in getting reemployed. These obstacles, which are often the most pronounced for women and people of color, threaten to create financial harm that could extend well beyond the end of the pandemic.
  • Risk of deepening economic divides between largest cities and some other parts of the state: The recovery is further along in some of North Carolina’s largest metropolitan areas such as Charlotte and Raleigh, but many other parts of the state are still much farther from full recovery. Metropolitan areas that have experienced the worst declines compared to February 2020 include Goldsboro (-6.5%), Asheville (-6.1%), and Greensboro-High Point (-5.5%). By comparison, Raleigh is only (2.1%) below pre-COVID employment levels.

  • COVID-19 has either erased all employment gains or deepened losses since the start of the Great Recession in a majority of counties: In North Carolina, 57 of 100 counties had fewer people working in April 2021 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.

Click here to see county-by-county employment changes since the start of the COVID-19 recession and here to see them since the start of the Great Recession.

(Note: the Budget & Tax Center is a project of the NC Justice Center — parent organization of NC Policy Watch).

Too little food, too few jobs: Survey shows pandemic-related challenges facing many North Carolinians

Graphic: SEAP, based on 317 anonymized surveys of North Carolinians who participate in food assistance programs

“Lost my place because I didn’t have any money coming in. Couldn’t work because the schools were closed and I didn’t have childcare.” — Ginni in Carteret County

This is just one response to a survey of North Carolinians who receive food assistance, conducted by the Southern Economic Advancement Project.

The COVID-19 crisis has left thousands of North Carolina families struggling to make ends meet. As part of an effort aimed at understanding the challenges facing people across the South, a SEAP uses 317 anonymized surveys of SNAP food assistance participants to document  COVID-related hardship in North Carolina. The results have been released in the group’s full report.

The North Carolinians surveyed from Aug. 28 to Sept. 7 reported food insecurity and job loss as the top challenges in the pandemic, and noted that help with food, housing and utilities are needed now.  

Fifty-six percent of those surveyed said they were having trouble affording enough food to feed their families, while 38% were struggling with job loss.  

Many of those surveyed noted the difficulty managing rising food, housing, and utility costs while facing job loss or reduced hours and wages.  Those surveyed also remarked that government support did help, although many of those supports have expired.  

Survey respondents shared their experiences in this public health and economic crisis: 

“No food on shelves. Had to go to other towns for food. All pricing went up. You get half of what you normally buy because of high prices … ” — Sara in Mooresboro

“I had savings. I’ve had a stable job. This pandemic hit us hard in areas we thought we were prepared for. Fishing for assistance has been challenging, and we shouldn’t have to in times like these.” — Valerie in Kenansville

As well as a call to action for elected officials: 

“It’s time to put your agendas to the side and help the people. Without the people you wouldn’t have your job.” 

The findings of this report are a reminder that it is time for Congress to put people before politics and prioritize a COVID relief package ahead of anything else, including wrangling over the US Supreme Court vacancy.  

Too many of our North Carolina children and families are suffering needlessly due to the inaction of our lawmakers.  With the House moving forward this week on a new package to respond to this public health and economic crisis, it is time for the Senate to prioritize action this week 

New analysis documents devastating impact Trump’s ACA sabotage has had on health care coverage

Researchers at the Center for American Progress released a new analysis this morning which shows that at this critical moment for access to health care, well over a million additional Americans would be enrolled in marketplace coverage if not for President Trump’s continuing efforts to sabotage the Affordable Care Act.

This is from the news release that accompanied the new analysis:

Washington, D.C. — Today, the Center for American Progress released new column examining trends in Affordable Care Act (ACA) marketplace enrollment and the effect President Donald Trump’s sabotage has had on stunting the public’s ability to obtain coverage. The analysis looks at disparities in enrollment patterns in both the federally facilitated marketplaces (FFM) operated by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) and state-based marketplaces (SBM) operated by the states.

The authors estimate that at least 1.26 million more people would be enrolled in marketplace coverage today if not for the Trump administration’s attacks on the ACA, and total enrollment would have at least held steady near its 2016 level instead of falling.

“We’re in the middle of a public health crisis that has crippled our economy, causing millions to lose their jobs and employer-provided insurance. This analysis shows that the administration’s refusal to create a coronavirus special enrollment period is just their latest effort to make it harder for people to get and stay covered,” said Emily Gee, health economist at CAP and co-author of the column.

And this is from the introduction to the analysis:

Since the first day of his administration, President Donald Trump has repeatedly tried to repeal the Affordable Care Act (ACA), even though it provides crucial consumer protections for health coverage and has led to nearly 20 million more Americans gaining insurance since it was signed into law in 2010. While the ACA remains in place, three years of Trump’s policies have taken a toll on enrollment in the ACA’s health insurance marketplaces. According to new data published by the federal Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS), 11.4 million people signed up for 2020 coverage—a decline of 1.27 million people (10 percent) since 2016.

While the ACA’s reforms created marketplaces for people buying insurance directly from insurers in every state, individual states can choose to operate their own marketplace enrollment platforms, allowing them a greater degree of control over outreach efforts and enrollment rules. Comparing enrollment trends among such state-based marketplaces (SBMs) against those in states that instead use the federal government’s enrollment platform—known as the federally facilitated marketplace (FFM)—provides a picture of how enrollment may have fared in the absence of the Trump administration’s sabotage from 2017 to 2020. The Center for American Progress estimates that at least 1.26 million more people would be enrolled in marketplace coverage today if not for the Trump administration’s attacks on the ACA, and total enrollment would have at least held steady near its 2016 level instead of falling.

The novel coronavirus pandemic highlights the importance of comprehensive insurance coverage. To date, a dozen states have reopened enrollment to the uninsured because of the COVID-19 pandemic, recognizing both the importance of comprehensive insurance coverage for COVID-19 testing and treatment as well as for helping to mitigate the financial strain caused by the pandemic, seen most clearly in millions of people becoming unemployed. Despite calls from more than 200 organizations to create a nationwide enrollment opportunity in this time of crisis, the Trump administration has so far refused to reopen marketplace enrollment.

Click here to read “How Trump’s Policies Have Hurt ACA Marketplace Enrollment.”

Pandemic shows that, on its 10th anniversary, we need the ACA more than ever

Ten years ago, on March 23, 2010, President Barack Obama signed the Affordable Care Act (ACA) into law. Health care had been a pivotal issue during the 2008 presidential election and the ACA delivered a massive overhaul to a failing system.

Unfortunately, even though the bill was modeled on a plan by the Heritage Foundation, a right-wing think tank, in order to garner GOP support, not one Republican supported this legislation. The polarized partisan vote that passed this bill was just the beginning of what would become a decade-long fight, waged by the GOP to dismantle a policy that delivered some major improvements to the health care system.

Now, on the ACA’s 10th birthday, we find ourselves battling an unprecedented coronavirus pandemic with a system that has left millions uninsured and hospitals under-resourced. How did we get here, and what can we do now to protect our people during this public health crisis? 

After an admittedly rocky launch, the ACA did indeed increase the ability for 20 million Americans to get health insurance at an affordable cost. Working people were able to receive federal subsidies (financial help) to help pay for monthly insurance premiums and out-of-pocket costs. They could keep their kids on their policies till they were age 26. Insurers could no longer refuse to cover or charge more for people with pre-existing conditions and they were mandated to cover essential health benefits including maternity care for all enrollees. 

Many more people with low incomes would be eligible for coverage under the Medicaid program, which was greatly expanded under the ACA with the federal government picking up 100% of the bill for the first three years, and never covering less than 90% in perpetuity. Community health centers were given billions in funding to also serve the needs of the working poor. One of the more controversial aspects of the law, the individual mandate, a provision that made it mandatory for everyone to carry insurance or be penalized was immediately challenged and went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. The National Federation of Independent Businesses v. Sebelius Supreme Court decision upheld the individual mandate, but made the Medicaid expansion (one of the key provisions to achieve health equity) optional, leaving it up to the states to decide.  

The North Carolina General Assembly, under Republican leadership, has continually rejected Medicaid expansion, leaving hundreds of thousands of Tar Heels uninsured, and leaving billions in federal dollars on the table. The consequences of not expanding Medicaid have been enormous, leading to suffering and financial instability for individuals and communities. Without the additional federal funding, rural hospitals continue to struggle financially, and some have been forced to close important departments or even shut down completely. Across the state, working families find themselves unprotected in the health coverage gap, ineligible for Medicaid and unable to afford insurance. Meanwhile, the leadership of the legislature has reacted to efforts to expand Medicaid — efforts marked by through sustained advocacy, the telling of heartbreaking personal stories, and the presentation of well-researched facts and figures — with indifference and inaction.

In the ensuing 10 years, the U.S. Congress has tried to repeal the ACA 70 times,  and the ACA ended up back in court once again over the individual mandate, in the Texas v. U.S. case. Late last year, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals found that the individual mandate was unconstitutional but did not uphold the decision from the lower court that the entire law was unconstitutional. The ACA is therefore headed back to the Supreme Court.   

Now North Carolina is facing the coronavirus pandemic with the equivalent of one hand tied behind its back. The failure to close the health coverage gap has left hundreds of thousands of North Carolinians who are working high-contact, public-facing jobs, like food service or child care, without health insurance or paid sick leave, making them vulnerable to both contracting the virus and also unintentionally spreading it. Rejecting the important federal Medicaid match dollars for the last 10 years has left many hospitals and clinics struggling financially and unprepared for the increased utilization that will be necessary during this public health crisis.   Read more