‘Roughly the same number of North Carolinians are looking for work today as there were in 2015’
Raleigh (April 21, 2017) — While North Carolina has seen unemployment decline over the past few months, the unemployment rate in North Carolina (4.9%) is still higher than the national rate (4.5%), and the Tar Heel State has not made as much progress as the nation in the past year in decreasing the number of people who can’t work.
“We’ve been treading economic water over the past several months” said Patrick McHugh, policy analyst with the Budget & Tax Center, a project of the NC Justice Center. “Our unemployment rate has been stuck around 5 percent since October, and roughly the same number of North Carolinians are looking for work today as there were in 2015.”
The March labor market data underscore a number of important economic realities, including:
- Support is needed for North Carolinians looking for work: There were approximately 244,000 North Carolinians looking for work in March, which is within a few thousand of where we stood at the beginning of 2015. Both the United States and North Carolina have seen unemployment decline since this time last year, but reduction was faster nationwide. The lack of progress in further reducing unemployment partially reflects just how many people have found it difficult to reconnect to the labor market. There are likely more than 150,000 people in North Carolina that are not officially counted as unemployed but who would have been part of the labor force in earlier periods of economic growth. With so much pent-up demand for work, North Carolina has not actually achieved anything near full employment.
- North Carolina still needs a raise: A tightening labor market has finally produced several months of decent wage gains across the country, but the wages in North Carolina are still below the national average. North Carolina has witnessed a boom in low-wage work over the past several years, leaving many workers on the brink on financial ruin. Raising the state minimum wage to $12 an hour would help 1.3 million North Carolinians to support their families, and it would boost overall economic growth by growing consumer demand by billions of dollars a year. Reinstating the state Earned Income Tax Credit can also reduce working poverty and increase consumer demand.
- Help people reconnect with the labor market: Job growth in North Carolina has not kept pace with the state’s growing population over the past several years. Approximately 59 percent of North Carolinians had a job in March, still well below what the state experienced in the 1990s and 2000s. Given that five counties have accounted for nearly 60 percent of the jobs created since 2009, the need to reemployment support services in many parts of the state is even deeper than the statewide figures would imply. This fact reflects a lack of concerted investment to ensure that people who lost their jobs during the recession can access the training needed to land new positions and, in many instances, entirely new careers.
For more context on the economic choices facing North Carolina, check out the Budget & Tax Center’s weekly Prosperity Watch report.