98 counties have unemployment rates the same or higher than last year

RALEIGH (Oct. 2, 2019) – As concerns around a slowing national economy mount, North Carolina’s August local labor market snapshot reveals some worrying indicators. In the midst of a growth period, 98 counties have unemployment rates the same or higher than last year, while 57 have rates higher than the state average of 4.3 percent. The state’s unemployment rate last August was lower at 4 percent. This suggests that as more people enter the labor market, growth is not meeting demand.

Underscoring concerns of a weak regional recovery in eastern North Carolina, 10 counties have lost jobs since last year, and 46 have lost jobs since the Great Recession. Eight are “Double Whammy” counties, having both lost jobs since December of 2007 and also year-over-year. Most of these counties are east of I-95, but all of them are classified as rural or suburban.

Metropolitan areas Asheville, Winston-Salem, Charlotte, and Raleigh are leading the state with strong job growth year-over. Asheville’s strength is driving the region, particularly towns to the west, to state-leading employment growth. Fayetteville, the economic engine of the Sandhills, by comparison, is growing year-over-year but has a lot of ground to make up from the Great Recession. Fayetteville has seen growth of 2.9 percent since last August, but it is largely flat since December of 2007. Regionally, this anemic growth has hamstrung the Rockingham, Laurinburg, and Lumberton micropolitan statistical areas (MSA), who have seen their job growth plummet since the Great Recession. Positioned just south of the Fayetteville MSA, Laurinburg has lost 16.4 percent of its jobs over the past 12 years.

“It is frightening to consider that as we near the apparent end of a growth cycle that many North Carolina counties are, in many ways, worse off now than they were at the beginning of the Great Recession,” said William Munn, Policy Analyst with the Budget & Tax Center, a project of the NC Justice Center. “It’s concerning that, as we prepare for more economic and natural shocks to our economy, too few of our communities are ready to weather new storms.”

Here are a couple of indicators highlighting North Carolina’s varying economic outcomes:

  • Asheville MSA leads the way: Asheville’s 5.6 percent employment change earns it the state’s strongest growth rate year-over-year. Since December of 2007, job growth has almost reached 20 percent. Its prosperity not only encompasses Haywood, Transylvania, and Henderson counties, but extends into the Cullowhee and Brevard micropolitan areas as well.
  • Winston-Salem, Charlotte, and Raleigh MSAs are healthy, too: These metros all have experienced year-over-year job growth rates of 4, 3.9 and 3 percent respectively. Since December of 2007, Charlotte and Raleigh have both seen their job growth leap 30 percent.
  • Challenges for the Sandhills: Fayetteville MSA’s anemic job growth (-0.5) since the beginning of the Great Recession has reflected painfully in the micropolitan areas that make up the rest of the region. Rockingham, Laurinburg, and Lumberton have among the state’s worst job growth rates, losing 16.3, 16.4 and 12.1 percent of their jobs correspondingly. The hard hits Fayetteville and Lumberton took from hurricanes Matthew and Florence might explain such a slow recovery.

For charts showing numbers for all counties and micro/metro areas and for county-level data downloads, visit ncjustice.org/LaborMarket.

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

The nonpartisan Budget & Tax Center is a project of the NC Justice Center, which works to eliminate poverty in North Carolina by ensuring every household in the state has access to the resources, services and fair treatment it needs to achieve economic security.

FOR MORE INFORMATION, CONTACT William Munn, Budget & Tax Center Policy Analyst at will@ncjustice.org or 919-856-2234; Mel Umbarger, Senior Communications Specialist, mel@ncjustice.org.