RALEIGH (June 19, 2015) — The North Carolina economy slogged through another mediocre month in May. Over the last year, wages in North Carolina have declined relative to the nation*, which made more progress in reducing the rolls of the unemployed.

“Wages should be growing during good economic times,” said Patrick McHugh of the Budget & Tax Center, a project of the NC Justice Center. “Because there are still more people looking for work in North Carolina than before the Great Recession and we’re experiencing a boom in low-paying jobs, paychecks are actually shrinking. That’s not an economy that is working for everyone.”

Other highlights of the March data include:

  • Growing wage gap between North Carolina workers and the national average: The average hourly earnings of North Carolina workers came in at $22.10 in May, $2.86 below the national average. The gap between North Carolina workers and employees in other states has widened substantially in recent years. As a result, the average weekly May paycheck in North Carolina was roughly $100 below the national average.
  • Still more North Carolinians out of work than before the Great Recession: Even though the ranks of the unemployed have declined over the past year, there are still more than 272,000 North Carolinians looking for work, approximately 44,000 more than at the end of 2007.
  • Percent of North Carolinians employed still near historic lows: May numbers showed 57.9 percent of North Carolinians were employed. This leaves North Carolina well below the level of employment that was commonplace before the Great Recession. In the mid-2000s, employment levels reached a peak of about 63 percent. The percent of North Carolinians with a job remains below the national average, as it has been since the Great Recession.
  • Labor force participation grows, but still below pre-recession norms: The size of the labor force, a measure of people who are employed or are looking for work, grew by 3 percent over the year. While this is a good sign that some workers are returning to the labor force, the share of North Carolinians who are employed or looking for work is still lower than before the Great Recession.
  • Unemployment rate not making gains: After falling dramatically from 2009 through the third quarter of 2014, the state and national unemployment rates have flattened out in recent months. Even while the state continues to add jobs, growth is not enough to push unemployment below the 5 percent threshold that most economists see as the top-end of a healthy labor market. Part of the flattening out can be attributed to people coming back into the labor force, which is good news. However, the labor market continues to fall well short of full employment.

For more context on the current state of the North Carolina economy, check out a recent report that reviews the last seven years of economic data and the Budget & Tax Center’s weekly Prosperity Watch platform.

FOR MORE INFORMATION, CONTACT: Patrick McHugh, patrick@ncjustice.org, 919.856.2183; Jeff Shaw, jeff@ncjustice.org, 503.551.3615 (cell).

*This post has been updated from its original version.