MEDIA RELEASE: North Carolina Still Not Seeing People Get Back Into the Labor Market

North Carolina has made virtually no progress over the past three years in increasing the percentage of people in the labor market, and its economy doesn’t even make the top 10 nationally, despite an above-average performance across much of the Southeast.

“We keep hearing claims that North Carolina’s economy is the strongest in the nation, but that’s simply not true,” said Patrick McHugh, a Budget & Tax Center Policy Analyst at the NC Justice Center. “Since this time last year, most of our neighbors in the South have matched or exceeded North Carolina’s pace of job creation, and we are still well below historical levels of employment.”

A lack of truly robust job growth continues to leave many North Carolinians behind. The state has made no progress in helping the percentage of North Carolinians in the labor market increase over the past three years, and it remains far below the level of labor force participation that was the norm before the Great Recession. Part of the decline in the unemployment rate over the past several months is actually due to a dip in the share of North Carolinians who are actively looking for work, so the headline unemployment rate doesn’t actually tell the whole story.

Other key findings from the labor market release include:

  • North Carolina pay remains below the national average. The average weekly paycheck in North Carolina came in roughly $80 below the national average. While wages in North Carolina have historically been below the nation, the gap today is substantially larger than it was before the Great Recession.
  • Far too many North Carolinians still cannot find work: There were over 225,000 North Carolinians looking for work last month.
  • Not making progress in getting people back into the labor market: Labor force participation (the share of North Carolinians who are working or actively looking for a job) remains well below historical norms and has made no net progress over the last several years. July figures show that approximately 61 percent of North Carolinians were employed or looking for work, which is where we stood at this point in 2013. By comparison, labor force participation was above 65 percent from 2000 up through the onset of the Great Recession.

For more on why it is misleading to claim that North Carolina has the fastest-growing economy in the country, see our recent post.

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

FOR MORE INFORMATION, CONTACT Patrick McHugh, Budget & Tax Center Economic Analyst, patrick.mchugh@ncjustice.org; Mel Umbarger, Budget & Tax Center Senior Communications Specialist, mel@ncjustice.org.

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