New jobs report: Big recovery in largest metro areas, most of the state still lagging

The last North Carolina jobs report for 2022 was just released, and the NC Budget & Tax Center published a detailed analysis Wednesday.

Good news? Bad news?

It really depends how you look at it — and especially where you look.

North Carolina added more than 190,000 jobs in 2022. That isn’t just good  it’s 226,000 jobs over pre-COVID-19 levels. But almost all of that growth is in the state’s two largest metro areas, the Triangle area and Charlotte. Those two metros account for 110,000 of those jobs added last year, which the BTC points out is nearly 60% of the net job growth for the year.*

How did other metros do? Not a single one added even 10,000 jobs.

Sixty of the state’s 100 counties still have fewer residents working than before COVID-19. That’s not just a measure of the impact of the pandemic. Nearly half of the counties in the state have never fully recovered from the Great Recession and still have fewer people working than before 2008.

Among the 24 smaller “mircopolitan” cities in the state, 18 are still below pre-COVID employment levels. Seven of those cities Lumberton, Kinston, Marion, Wilson, Roanoke Rapids, Mount Airy, and North Wilkesboro  still have at least 1,000 fewer residents working than before the pandemic.

“We’re looking at some pretty stark divides that need to be addressed,” said Patrick McHugh, research manager at the NC Budget & Tax Center Federal and author of the analysis, in a statement.

“Federal aid and a strong market in general have propelled some city economies ahead, but we’re at risk of replaying our failure to drive a truly statewide recovery,” McHugh said. “Unless legislators in Raleigh are compelled to pick a different path this year, many of the communities, families, and workers who lost out following the Great Recession will be on the outside looking in — again — as we rebuild from COVID-19.”

*…The BTC initially reported this number incorrectly — it has been updated to correct a math error.

Read the full analysis from the NC Budget & Tax Center here.

NC continues to gain jobs, but is losing state employees over pay that isn’t keeping up with inflation

State labor market data released Friday shows that the economic recovery jumpstarted by federal aid continued through October in North Carolina. North Carolina has added jobs every month over the past year, and the state now has more than 200,000 additional jobs than before the COVID-19 pandemic.

On average over the past six months, we’ve gained nearly 18,000 net jobs per month. The most recent hiring data, from September, also shows that hiring has remained robust even as economic headwinds are causing some concern. North Carolina had 216,000 hires in September, only slightly below the same time last year when we had 233,000 hires.

Amid this relatively sunny topline news is a dark cloud created by our state legislature: a failure to ensure that public servants’ pay keeps up with inflation, which means that North Carolina has continued losing state employees that provide the key services our communities need.

Public employee raises over the past two years have fallen far short of inflation so that when we look at real incomes, many state employees effectively lost over 2.5 weeks of pay when current salaries are compared to last year’s. As a result, North Carolina has lost thousands of state employees since last October. We’re not seeing the same losses in the private sector, local government, or federal government, which have all added jobs over the past year. This indicates that this problem stems directly from the policy choices made in Raleigh not to adequately raise employee pay, and instead to divert over $4.1 billion into reserves.

While inflation is gradually coming down, low pay is making is hard to fill vital positions across the state. North Carolina started the school year with over 11,000 vacancies in our public schools. At the Department of Environmental Quality — the agency tasked with protecting air quality and ensuring our drinking water is safe, among other things — more than 1 in 5 positions are vacant. High vacancy and turnover rates at the Department of Health and Human Services mean longer waitlists and fewer people served for crucial services like psychiatric care, even as need has increased.

It’s crucial to address these shortages not only to meet ongoing needs in our state, but also to make sure that North Carolina is ready to steward a wide variety of federal funds that will be made available to our state in the coming years through the federal Infrastructure Investment and Jobs and Inflation Reduction Acts.

Logan Rockefeller Harris is a Senior Policy Analyst with the NC Budget & Tax Center. Patrick McHugh is the BTC’s Research Manager and contributed to this post.

Research shows how and why NC elections are underfunded

Across North Carolina early voting is in full swing and voters are heading to the polls.

How long the wait lines are, how many sites are open, and what machines voters use (along with unseen work outside of voting season to support voter databases and support candidate filing processes) all depend on funding.

North Carolina requires local governments — and specifically counties — to fund election administration. The level of funding and specific items funded make a difference in our experiences of voting.

And yet, election administration funding across North Carolina’s counties has averaged less than 1 percent of county budgets over the past three elections. In the most recent budgets for the Fiscal Year 2022-23, Stokes County makes the highest funding commitment as a share of the county budget and Onslow County the lowest.

Researchers’ most comprehensive review of election administration costs in 2000 found that administering an election averaged the equivalent of $17.10 per voter nationwide, when adjusted for inflation in 2022.

North Carolina counties should be reaching at least that annual funding effort given the documented costs for funding elections during the pandemic.

Analysis of the Fiscal Year 2022-23 county budgets available show that 16 counties meet the recommended funding level, and 64 fall short. Twenty counties did not have board of elections budget data available.

This election season, voters have an opportunity to participate in our democracy at the ballot box. And every year through our taxes, we participate by funding the infrastructure we need to ensure that every vote is counted and every eligible voter can fully participate in our democracy.

Alexandra Sirota is the executive director of the N.C. Budget & Tax Center, which first published this report.

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 ncbudget.org/labormarket.

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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