Labor market data show many communities moving in the wrong direction or not making solid progress

RALEIGH (March 17, 2017) — The first economic reading for 2017 shows an alarming number of areas across North Carolina either moving in the wrong direction or not making solid progress. Most communities still have more people looking for work than before the Great Recession, and several counties that clawed their way back to pre-recession employment levels have lost ground over the last several months.

“We hardly needed a reminder that our economy isn’t working for everyone, but the last few months have actually seen some communities losing economic ground,” said Patrick McHugh, Economic Analyst for the Budget & Tax Center, part of the NC Justice Center. “We are facing the prospect of a lost decade across much of North Carolina, which would be particularly harsh if the next recession starts before most communities recover from the last one.”

Highlights from this month’s labor market data include:

  • Majority of North Carolina counties still have not recovered. Even after years of economic recovery, 60 of North Carolina’s 100 counties had fewer jobs in December 2016 than existed before the Great Recession, and three-quarters of the counties have an unemployment rate higher than pre-recession levels.
  • Lack of jobs is not just a rural problem. Only two of North Carolina’s 15 metropolitan areas have managed to push the unemployment rate below pre-recession levels. Even some cities that are generally seen as economic leaders still have not generated enough jobs for everyone that needs to work, and some parts of North Carolina continue to face deep economic challenges. A slow and inadequate recovery across much of eastern North Carolina was compounded last year by Hurricane Matthew, leaving Fayetteville, Goldsboro, New Bern, and Rocky Mount with fewer jobs today than a decade ago.
  • Labor force participationi is up across much of North Carolina, but gains bypass many communities. The size of the labor force declined in 10 counties last year, putting all of these communities even farther behind where they were in 2008. More broadly, almost 6 out of every 10 counties have fewer people participating in the labor market today than before the recession.

For a summary of each county’s current economic data, see our Labor Market Watch page. For a summary of how each county’s current economic figures compare to pre-recession levels, see our Recession Watch page.

FOR MORE INFORMATION, CONTACT: Patrick McHugh,; Julia Hawes,