MEDIA RELEASE: Unemployment Soars Across North Carolina

Unemployment Soars Across North Carolina
Center expert: Country and metro numbers are "simply numbing"

RALEIGH (March 19, 2009) -- No North Carolina community was spared from the collapse of the labor market in January, according to data released this morning by the Employment Security Commission. Unemployment rates rose in all 100 counties and 14 metropolitan areas. And in 72 counties, at least 10 percent of the labor force was jobless and seeking work.

"The January numbers are simply numbing," said John Quinterno, research associate at the NC Budget & Tax Center.

In January, unemployment rates rose in every county. The highest recorded unemployment rate was 17.3 percent in Dare County, the lowest was 5.8 percent in Orange County. Unemployment rates exceeded 10 percent in 72 counties and 13 percent in 26 counties. 

Metropolitan areas also struggled with rising unemployment in January. Unemployment rates exceeded 13 percent in both the Rocky Mount and the Hickory-Morganton-Lenoir areas. No metro area recorded an unemployment rate lower than the 7.3 percent one seen in Durham-Chapel Hill.

"No community is safe from the raging economic storm," said Quinterno. "Even communities that are supposed models of the 'new' economy have been hammered. In the Research Triangle, unemployment reached 7.9 percent in January; in the the greater Charlotte region, 11.2 percent of the labor force was unemployed."

"What is striking is just how rapidly the labor market has collapsed," explained Quinterno. "Much of the increase in unemployment has occurred since September 2008. In the Piedmont Triad, the unemployment rate jumped to 10.4 percent from 6.8 percent in the span of four months."

Added Quinterno, "North Carolina's labor market clearly is spiraling downwards. While the federal recovery package likely will slow the decline, conditions have deteriorated even more rapidly than the package's architects envisioned. Little suggests that an end is near."

The chilling numbers further compound the difficult situation facing state legislators coping with severe budget shortfalls. Due to the state's outmoded revenue system, the weakening economy is cutting further into revenue at the same time that demand for key public services like education at community colleges is mounting.

Recognizing economic realities, Quinterno said, requires understanding that the state cannot slip the budgetary vise simply by cutting spending.

"Not only is relying solely on budget cuts insufficient, it could well be counter-productive," said Quinterno. "Government spending is perhaps the only source of demand in the economy, and it helps support the economy's only growth sectors over the past year -- health care jobs and education jobs. Eliminating spending in those areas only will exacerbate the situation."

For More Information, Contact: John Quinterno, 919-856-3185 (office); 919-622-2392 (mobile).

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The NC Budget & Tax Center provides timely, accessible and credible analysis of state and local budget and tax issues with a special focus on the impact on low- and moderate-income North Carolinians.