North Carolina’s job growth continued in June, but wages aren’t keeping up with rising costs

Statewide job growth North Carolina is continuing at a fast clip, with nearly 26,000 jobs added in June. The latest data show that the state now has over 130,000 more jobs than at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, keeping North Carolina ahead of the U.S. by this measure of economic recovery. The percentage of residents working in the state remains stubbornly 1.5 percentage points lower than in the U.S. as whole, a gap that hasn’t shifted much since the Great Recession.

With continued job growth, it’s increasingly important for the state to focus on increasing access to high-quality jobs that provide people with the income they need to support themselves and their families. While wages have grown during the recovery from COVID-19, they’re not keeping up with rising prices. Nationwide, inflation has grown by 9 percent over the past year, compared with a 5 percent growth in wages.

We also know that topline jobs numbers don’t show the still uneven nature of the recovery. As of the beginning of June, research from Opportunity Insights showed that employment rates among North Carolina workers earning $29,000 a year or less were still 20 percent lower than before the pandemic. To build an economy that works for everyone, we need to ensure that North Carolina supports employment and living wages for the people who’ve been left out of the benefits of economic growth.

For charts showing the most recent labor data and COVID-19 job data, visit the NC Budget & Tax Center’s Labor Market page at

Logan Rockefeller Harris is a senior policy analyst at the N.C. Budget & Tax Center.

Economic Policy Institute analysis: Overturning Roe v. Wade would be an economic catastrophe for millions of women

[This post was originally published by the Economic Policy Institute. Click here to read the original.]

A leaked draft of a majority opinion authored by Supreme Court justice Samuel Alito strongly suggests that the Court will rule to overturn Roe v. Wade and Planned Parenthood v. Casey, the two landmark cases that have upheld the right to an abortion nationwide for the last half century. If the final ruling largely follows what is sketched out in the leaked draft, abortion services will be drastically curtailed, if not outright banned, in over half the country.

Abortion is often framed as a “culture-war” issue, distinct from material “bread and butter” economic issues. In reality, abortion rights and economic progress are deeply interconnected, and the imminent loss of abortion rights means the loss of economic security, independence, and mobility for millions of women. The fall of Roe will be an additional economic blow, as women in the 26 states likely to ban abortion already face an economic landscape of lower wages, worker power, and access to health care.

Women’s economic lives, livelihoods, and mobility are at the heart of the reasoning to overrule Roe.

In the draft majority opinion, Justice Alito dismissed the argument in Casey that women had organized their lives, relationships, and careers with the availability of abortions services, writing “that form of reliance depends on an empirical question that is hard for anyone—and in particular, for a court—to assess, namely the effect of the abortion right on society and in particular on the lives of women.” In fact, this empirical question has been definitively assessed and answered. A rich and rigorous social science literature has examined both the detrimental effect of a denied abortion on women’s lives, as well as the individual and societal economic benefits of abortion legalization, as detailed in the thorough amicus brief filed in Dobbs on behalf of over 100 economists.

Some of the economic consequences of being denied an abortion include a higher chance of being in poverty even four years after; a lower likelihood of being employed full time; and an increase in unpaid debts and financial distress lasting years. Laws that restrict abortion providers, so-called “TRAP” laws (targeted regulation of abortion providers), have led to women in those states being less likely to move into higher-paying occupations.

On the flip side, environments in which abortion is legal and accessible have lower rates of teen first births and marriages. Abortion legalization has also been associated with reduced maternal mortality for Black women. The ability to delay having a child has been found to translate to significantly increased wages and labor earnings, especially among Black women, as well as increased likelihood of educational attainment. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen concluded that “eliminating the rights of women to make decisions about when and whether to have children would have very damaging effects on the economy and would set women back decades.”

The draft opinion of this overtly partisan Supreme Court ignores the rigorous data and empirical studies demonstrating the significant economic consequences of this decision. In doing so, it lays bare the cruel and misogynistic politics that motivate it. Justice Alito’s dismissal of claims that forcing women to bear an unwanted pregnancy imposes a heavy burden is shockingly glib, as he simply asserts “that federal and state laws ban discrimination on the basis of pregnancy, that leave for pregnancy and childbirth are now guaranteed by law in many cases, that the costs of medical care associated with pregnancy are covered by insurance or government assistance….”

Every statement in this casual litany is wildly misleading. Women are still routinely fired for being pregnant, close to 9 in 10 workers lacked paid leave in 2020, the costs of maternity care with insurance have risen sharply and constitute a serious economic burden for even middle-income families. And many of the states certain or likely to ban abortion after the fall of Roe have not expanded Medicaid, leaving women without insurance facing much steeper costs—particularly in the immediate post-partum period. And, of course, our failed health care system often imposes the ultimate cost of all on pregnant women: The U.S. rate of maternal mortality, especially for Black women, ranks last among similarly wealthy countries. In short, the potential costs of bearing a child are high indeed, and it is women who should decide if and when they wish to shoulder them.

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Local job data: Nearly 75% of NC counties still have fewer people working than pre-pandemic

The last local jobs report for 2021 is in. Significant strides toward recovery were made, but true economic healing has still not been realized in many communities across North Carolina.

Several rounds of federal aid have helped families navigate tough times and made the recovery from the COVID-19 recession much faster than we saw in the wake of the Great Recession. North Carolina has recovered most of the jobs that were lost in the first few months of the pandemic, while at this point in the Great Recession our state was still losing jobs. These are very different kinds of crises to be sure, but there’s no doubt that massive federal assistance in the form of Unemployment Benefits, housing assistance, deferred student loan payments, and more have kept families afloat and hastened the economic recovery.

Chart showing a better federal response to COVID-19 has led to a faster recovery than during the Great Recession.

For all of the progress made in the last year, the project of rebuilding is far from over. The statewide unemployment rate for December (3.7 percent) can make it look like North Carolina has recovered from the shock of COVID-19. Sadly, that’s not the full story in many communities across the state. Nearly three-quarters of our counties still have fewer people working than before the pandemic arrived. In many cases, the losses during COVID-19 piled on top of longer-term declines that date back to before Great Recession. Almost half of North Carolina’s counties have fewer people working than before the economic collapse of 2008, a testament to the fact that we have not made the kinds of investments many, particularly rural, communities need to reverse the flight of jobs to a few urban communities.

The story is not just about the rural-urban divide. Some cities have now recovered the jobs lost to COVID-19, but most are still trying to dig out of the hole. Employment in the Triangle, Wilmington, Greenville, and the Morganton area has surpassed pre-COVID levels. On the other hand, the Greensboro-High Point area is still more than 14,000 jobs below where it was before the pandemic, the Charlotte area is over 15,000 jobs short, and Asheville is still trying to replace 6,500 jobs.

The big question is whether we can muster the political will to keep investing in rebuilding a more economically just state. Last year, our legislature continued to hand out tax breaks to huge corporations instead of supporting people and communities that need it. Federal aid over the past few years made up for some of our state leaders’ failure to do what was needed, but the uneven pace of recovery shows there’s still a lot of work to do.

If you’re interested in the jobs picture in your community or across the state, visit our labor market page to see maps and charts of what’s going on.

Patrick McHugh is the research manager at the N.C. Budget and Tax Center.

The economy in 2022: What will happen? What should happen?

Predicting the future is messy business even in the most stable of times, and whatever you want to say about the current moment, stability certainly isn’t in these days. That’s why we’re not going to join the ranks of economists putting out forecasts in January.

But that doesn’t mean we no sense of what some of the big stories of 2022 are likely to be. We here at BTC have our eye on a lot of things these days, and here are a few of the big questions that will shape the economic reality people in North Carolina will be dealing with.

Will government investments continue to speed the recovery?

Without swift, massive, and sustained government assistance, COVID-19 could easily have created an economic collapse unlike anything in recorded history. It may be hard to imagine given the enormous human toll that this pandemic has taken, but it could have been MUCH worse. Instead, we’ve seen a lesson in the power of the public purse to keep families above water and speed an economic bounce back.

Chart showing a better federal response to COVID-19 has led to a faster recovery than during the Great Recession.

Compared to the Great Recession when the federal response was much smaller, the recovery from the initial shock of COVID-19 has been remarkably swift. November marked 20 months since the state of the COVID-19 recession, and North Carolina is within 1 percent of pre-pandemic employment levels. Twenty months into the Great Recession and North Carolina was still losing jobs and wouldn’t recover all of the lost employment for more than six and a half years. Of course, the cause of these two recessions were very different, but there’s no question the much larger federal response is a big reason the recovery has been so much faster.

Several major federal packages have kept people from going broke and left some families financially better off than before the pandemic. Supplemental unemployment insurance benefits, stimulus checks, rental assistance, fiscal aid for state and local governments, and more across multiple federal laws helped keep food on tables, roofs over heads, and customers with cash in hand to support businesses.

The big question for 2022 is whether support for people and communities still trying to rebuild will continue. We’re not out of the woods yet, and people have been wrongly predicting the end of this pandemic for a long time. People are still getting sick and losing income, struggling with child care, paying rent, getting enough to eat, and other barriers to financial security. Many forms of aid and economic stimulus (like federally funded unemployment insurance benefits) have already been cut off, and there’s a real risk that the recovery will be slowed by lack of public investment.

What happens with inflation and how do we respond?

Inflation has become a legitimate concern in the past year as a lot of basic necessities have become more expensive. The official measure in December indicated the cost of the average set of goods consumers buy across the country was 7 percent higher than at the end of 2020. This level of inflation is certainly higher than anything we’ve seen in the past few decades, but nowhere near what occurred during parts of the 1970s and 1980s when inflation really did create enormous economic problems. So long as inflation stays constrained near its current levels, it’s unlikely to threaten the course of the recovery in any major way.

Some things are getting more expensive A LOT faster than others, though. Some of the biggest increases were for commodities that already consume a larger share of low-income people’s budgets than their more affluent neighbors. Gasoline was just about 50 percent more expensive at the end of 2021 than a year earlier, piped gas used in homes was 24 percent more costly, and the price of used cars and trucks was up by more than one-third. Another major question is whether the cost of rent will continue to rise. The cost of shelter increased over 4 percent during 2021, but a lack of housing stock and increasing housing costs in communities that were once more affordable could pose a major concern for lower-income renters.

Perhaps even more than inflation itself, the big question in 2022 is what policymakers will do in response. As noted already, the current level of inflation is not a systemic problem yet, but it there are real risks that our policy response may be.

The biggest concern is whether inflation is used to justify cutting off support for communities and people still being financially hurt by COVID-19. Some lawmakers like West Virginia Senator Manchin have leaned on concerns about inflation to justify opposing additional federal support, like the Build Back Better plan. Don’t believe it. Inflation is being propelled by a host of factors that have nothing to do with COVID aid, like strained broken supply chains, corporations jumping on the opportunity to pass on costs to consumers, and gas prices. We can help people hurting because of COVID-19 without driving costs much higher, so the big question for 2022 is whether we inflate the risk of inflation and stop investing in a real recovery.

Supporting a strong recovery does mean helping people who are truly being affected by rising costs. With energy, food, shelter, and transportation getting more expensive, low- and middle-income North Carolinians are going to feel the squeeze the most. Failing to provide assistance could make it harder for people to work, which would create economic problems that affect everyone.

Will the recovery become more equitable? Read more

New report confirms what advocates have been saying: Anti-poverty programs work

[Editor’s note: The following is from a new “BTC Brief” entitled “Public Poilcy Must Tackle Poverty” from North Carolina Budget & Tax Center Policy Advocate Heba Atwa and BTC Director Alexandra Sirota. Its central finding: “Evidence shows that programs that provide food and housing assistance and tax credits do help North Carolinians move out of poverty.”]

NC poverty is cut in half through government programs

In estimates of the average effect of programs like SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program), tax credits, and TANF (Temporary Assistance for Needy Families) from 2013-2017, researchers at the Center on Budget & Policy Priorities found that 1.5 million North Carolinians were supported in their movement out of poverty by government assistance. Nearly 300,000 North Carolinians, including 130,000 children, were lifted out of poverty by the SNAP program alone.

The result is that the state’s poverty rate overall falls from 28 percent to 13 percent after taking government programs into account (See Figure 1).

The power of these anti-poverty programs, however, is not equally felt. The latest data show that white North Carolinians are more likely to experience a reduction in poverty than Black or Latinx North Carolinians (See Figure 2). This inequitable outcome is the result of policy choices within programs that block people of color from securing the same benefits as white people and block progress on bringing down overall poverty rates in the state. The higher poverty rates experienced by Black and Latinx North Carolinians should drive policymakers to ensure that policies and programs are creating the greatest declines for these groups.

North Carolina can make greater progress in reducing poverty

Policy choices matter when it comes to the effectiveness of food assistance, housing vouchers, cash assistance, and tax credits in making sure that people have the basics they need. North Carolina can look at broad areas of policy design in each of these programs to ensure that the state is maximizing its tools in the fight against poverty.

Doing so must begin with an assessment of the racial-equity impact of policy choices within each of these programs to ensure that the state’s systems aren’t harming the opportunity of North Carolinians based on who they are or where they live.

  • Family cap policies in TANF limit the ability of families to receive adequate income support for each child in their family. Researchers have found that receipt of cash assistance has no impact on child-bearing decisions.
  • Drug felony bans in TANF and SNAP reinforce the disproportionate enforcement activities in communities of color. Researchers have found that income and food assistance is essential to the stability and successful re-entry of people back into communities.

In the coming year, it is crucial that NC policymakers focus on strengthening the state’s anti-poverty programs.

Remove barriers that disproportionately hurt North Carolinians of color

  • Prohibition against time-limit waivers for ABAWD: The North Carolina legislature has banned the state from seeking special permission from the USDA, which results in adults with no children or disabilities being denied food assistance if they cannot find employment or an approved vocational training program for 20 hours a week, regardless of the economic conditions in their community.
  • SNAP and TANF felony ban: North Carolina is one of a dwindling number of states that restricts access to both cash and food assistance for people who have been convicted of specific drug-related felonies. Preventing people from accessing the support they need immediately after serving their sentences as they transition to life after incarceration does not prevent crime or reduce recidivism, and in fact, may increase re-arrest rates.
  • The TANF family cap denies a benefit increase to families who have an additional child while receiving TANF. The family cap provision aims to control reproductive choices and makes the racist assumption that women would choose to have a child to increase TANF benefits by as little as $26 a month. Notably, the policy has no impact on birth rates.

Support systemic solutions to poverty that assist North Carolinians on the path to economic security

  • Tax credits for working families: Reestablishing a generous and fully refundable state-level Earned Income Tax Credit and adequately investing in IRS Volunteer Income Tax Assistance sites around the state would ensure that all eligible families are claiming the family tax credits, which are known to improve health and well-being outcomes for both parents and children and to increase the future economic outcomes of children in families that claim the credit.
  • Investment in early childhood education.