RALEIGH (July 3, 2019) — May’s local labor market data shows a general strengthening of the state economy but also reveals stagnation and sustained job loss concentrated in rural corridors of the state.

Urban parts of North Carolina are experiencing strong growth in employment while rural, eastern spaces continue to struggle to recover from the Great Recession. Metropolitan statistical areas (metros), such as Raleigh and Charlotte-Concord-Gastonia, have seen their employment grow by more than 30 percent since December of 2007 while micropolitan statistical areas (micros) like Roanoke Rapids lost 13 percent of their jobs.

There are 13 metros and micros across the state that have lost employment since the beginning of the Great Recession. Three of those are in Western NC, three in Southeastern NC, and seven concentrated in Northeastern NC, ranging from a loss of 1 to 16 percent of their employment. These are spaces isolated from major metro areas with the exception of Rocky Mount, Lumberton and Laurinburg.

Inversely, there are seven metros and micros mainly clustered along the I-40 and I-85 urban corridors that have seen their employment grow by more than 20 percent since the Great Recession. The one exception to urban geographic clustering is Boone, which has seen job growth of 21 percent since December 2007. It is likely that integration between local government economic planning and human capital development by the regional university has significantly benefited the area.

“While our state’s economy appears to be generally moving in the right direction we cannot abandon those spaces outside of urban corridors,” said William Munn, Policy Analyst with the Budget & Tax Center, a project of the NC Justice Center. “Small towns across the state have real people with real regional challenges that deserve intentional analysis and specialized public policy. Leaders need to address the barriers that have plagued their communities for decades, and tax cuts will not do it.”

Here are a couple of indicators illustrating differential regional outcomes:

  • Employment loss outside of urban NC: Thirteen metropolitan and micropolitan statistical areas have lost jobs since the beginning of the Great Recession. Cullowhee, North Wilkesboro, Henderson, Lumberton, Wilson, Roanoke Rapids, Rocky Mount, Wilson, Elizabeth City, Washington, New Bern, Laurinburg, Rockingham, and Forest City have seen their employment decrease. Forest City, in Western N.C., continues to fare the worst, losing 16 percent of their jobs since December 2007. We continue to monitor eight statistical areas clustered in Eastern NC, which have been affected by shocks, both economic and natural caused by late-year hurricanes.
  • Metro and Micros driving recovery: Raleigh (33 percent), Charlotte-Concord-Gastonia (30 percent), Oxford (25 percent), Wilmington (23 percent), Durham-Chapel-Hill (20 percent), Boone (21 percent), Asheville (20 percent), Burlington (19 percent), Pinehurst-Southern Pines (17 percent), Greenville (15 percent), Brevard (13 percent), and Dunn (12 percent) all have seen double-digit employment growth since December 2007.

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