Eastern North Carolina is still struggling compared to the state average, data shows

Raleigh (June 28, 2017) — Today’s local labor market release shows gradual improvement from month to month, but persistent prosperity gaps in rural Eastern North Carolina continue to exist. While there are now 28 counties with unemployment rates higher than the state average (a number that is steadily decreasing), 23 of those counties are concentrated in the Eastern part of the state. Eight of the 22 counties with unemployment rates higher than before the Great Recession are in this region. In December of 2007, the total unemployed in these counties was 12,425, while in May of this year it rose to 12,844. 

“If special attention, in the form of sound public policy, is not directed to the rural Eastern counties still struggling with high unemployment, then leadership is committing an entire region to generational underdevelopment and poverty,” said William Munn, Policy Analyst for the Budget and Tax Center, a project of the NC Justice Center. 

As another budget season draws to a close, it is clear that a lack of a remedy for the state’s unemployment insurance system is failing counties with higher unemployment rates than the state average. Tying the number of weeks people are eligible for unemployment insurance to the state unemployment rate without reflecting local labor market realities is a punishment to those who need it most. 

Highlights from this May’s labor market data include:

  • Persistent unemployment in Eastern NC: Since 2007, unemployment rates in Wilson, Hoke, Nash, Sampson, Wayne, Martin, Halifax and Perquimans counties have risen. Wilson County has seen the largest increase at 1.7 percent; the labor market reports its unemployment rate as 7.6 percent for May.  After almost eight years of recovery, nearly 13,000 residents in these counties are without jobs. 
  • Wage decline: Out of the 15 metropolitan statistical areas (MSA) in North Carolina, 8 of them have experienced declines in wages since last May. Asheville, Durham-Chapel Hill, Fayetteville, Goldsboro and Wilmington in particular, have seen declines of over 2 percent from a year ago. Nine of the 15 MSAs have seen slower rates of wage growth than the state average.   
  • Disappearing labor forces: Fayetteville, Goldsboro, Greenville, Jacksonville, Rocky Mount, and Winston-Salem have seen their labor forces decline slightly since last year. While it is noted that, generally, these declines are not major, spatially most of these cities are located in the Eastern part of the state. Rocky Mount, for example, has seen 7.2 percent of its labor force disappear since December of 2007, an alarming and compounding data point given the challenges Nash County has endured from hurricane damage.   

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

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