Prosperity Watch Issue 26, No. 3: Employment Growth Continues to Bypass Rural North Carolina

Nearly 4 years since the formal end of the Great Recession, rural North Carolina is experiencing a very different recovery than the state’s urban areas. Instead of replacing the jobs lost during the recession, rural parts of the state are continuing to experience job loss, while at the same time, the state’s metropolitan and micropolitan areas have experienced employment growth. 

As seen in the following chart, metropolitan areas within the state saw a 5.6 percent increase in employment levels since the end of the Great Recession, with the small cities in the state’s micropolitan areas not too far behind, experiencing a 4.9 percent increase. At the same time, rural areas saw their total employment drop by 13.5 percent, suggesting that workers left rural communities in droves and moved to the state’s cities to find employment.

A major factor behind this shift from rural to urban employment involves the long-term trend away from manufacturing employment and towards service employment. Historically, North Carolina’s rural counties have depended on the manufacturing sector to provide the bulk of its employment opportunities, so as rural manufacturing declined due to global economic restructuring, rural workers were faced with a transition to service-producing industries—especially Leisure & Hospitality and Retail—and overall shrinking job opportunities. 

The conclusion of the Great Recession did not create a positive turn-around for residents in rural North Carolina; instead, it marked an even greater depression for the rural economy. Without the creation of more manufacturing jobs, comprehensive economic restructuring in these rural counties, and skills training for a 21st century economy, residents of rural counties in North Carolina, along with other southeastern states, will likely continue to face the hardships of job loss and economic depression.

 

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