Prosperity Watch (Issue 71, No. 4): Two measures point to the continued lack of job opportunities in North Carolina

March 27, 2017

State labor market data was released on Friday that found the unemployment rate was 5.1 percent in North Carolina. However, the unemployment rate alone cannot give a complete picture of how the labor market is performing because it only measures the number of unemployed people actively seeking jobs as a share of the people who are in the labor force.  

The availability of jobs, however, can impact the size of the labor force and, in turn, undercount the number of people who would otherwise be looking for work if job opportunities were stronger. These “missing workers” in North Carolina numbered approximately 188,000 in February 2017. If you combine these “missing workers” with those officially measured in the unemployment rate,  it would be 8.9 percent. That is nearly 2 times the official unemployment rate in North Carolina.

Determining the health of the labor market should not be limited just to measuring those who are unemployed or waiting outside of the labor market, but should also assess the level of employment.  Employment to population ratios can provide further indication of whether there are enough job opportunities relative to the size of the population. In February 2017, North Carolina’s employment levels remained below pre-recession levels. Fifty-nine percent of the population was employed, below the pre-recession level of 61.9 percent. 

North Carolina continues to benefit from the national recovery, but we also continue to fall short on key metrics that would signal a healthy labor market that can meet the demand for work among a growing work force.

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