Prosperity Watch Issue 59, No. 4: Unemployment in North Carolina not declining with the nation

March 23, 2016

North Carolina continues to have persistently high poverty and low employment levels. And yet surprisingly, pundits continue to proclaim economic victory and focus on the state’s unemployment rate as an indicator that policy choices have led to better economic conditions. Even by that limited measure, however, North Carolina has underperformed the nation and our neighbors.

The number of unemployed workers in North Carolina remains above pre-recession levels despite seven years of an official recovery. As of January 2015, there were still nearly 38,500 more jobless North Carolinians than before the Great Recession began. The state’s unemployment rate has remained above the national unemployment since the start of the Great Recession—except for a brief period in 2014—and stands at 5.6 percent as of January 2016 compared to 4.9 percent for the nation in the same month.

While the unemployment rate alone does not provide a comprehensive picture of our economic performance, the fact that it has not declined along with the nation signals ongoing challenges in the labor market that other economic indicators confirm. Of the 38 states that experienced a decline in their unemployment from January 2014 to January 2015, North Carolina experienced one of the fourth smallest declines. The fact is, North Carolina’s unemployment rate has not come down appreciably in the last year, even while the nation and many of our neighbors have made marked progress.

It is clear by this measure and many others that a new approach is needed to solving North Carolina’s economic challenges.  


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