March labor market figures show fewer people connected to the workforce in most communities

RALEIGH (April 28, 2021) — Even as communities work to recover from the economic shock of COVID-19, the latest labor market data released today show that local job markets are still far from healthy. Most communities still have fewer jobs, more people looking for work, and fewer people connected to the labor market than before the pandemic.

“Unless we change course, the pandemic very well may leave North Carolina more divided, more unequal, and more economically fragile,” said Patrick McHugh, Research Manager with the North Carolina Budget & Tax Center. “The Great Recession left deep scars in some parts of the state while others healed, and we’re at risk of repeating that story this time around if we once again leave communities without the resources they need to truly recover.”

Click for charts with new labor market data

Economic challenges facing North Carolina include: 

  • Fewer people connected to the labor market in almost every community: The number of people working or looking for work is lower than it was before COVID-19 in 98 of North Carolina’s 100 counties. In addition to there not being enough jobs for everyone who wants to work, this fact shows a lot of North Carolinians face barriers in getting reemployed. These kinds of obstacles, which are often the most pronounced for women and people of color, threaten to create financial harm that could extend well beyond the end of the pandemic.
  • Risk of deepening economic divides between largest cities and some other parts of the state: The Recovery is further along in some of North Carolina’s largest metropolitan areas such as Charlotte and Raleigh, but many other parts of the state are still much further from full recovery. Metropolitan areas that have experienced the worst declines compared to February of last year include Asheville (-5.3%), Greensboro-High Point (-5.2%), and Goldsboro (-4.8%). All of these metropolitan areas and counties have lost a larger share of their total workforce than the Triangle and Charlotte, threatening a repeat of the Great Recession when many parts of the state were much slower to recover from an economic collapse.

  • COVID-19 has either erased all employment gains or deepened losses since the start of the Great Recession in a majority of counties: In NC, 58 of 100 counties had fewer people working in March 2021 than before the Great Recession. Many parts of the state had never recovered all of the jobs that disappeared in the Great Recession, so the losses during COVID-19 are further compounding a long-term problem.

For charts showing the most recent labor data and COVID-19 job data, visit the Budget & Tax Center’s Labor Market page at

For more context on the economic choices facing North Carolina, check out the Budget & Tax Center’s 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. 

FOR MORE INFORMATION, CONTACT Patrick McHugh, Budget & Tax Center Research Manager, at or 919-856-2183; or Mel Umbarger, Budget & Tax Center Senior Communications Specialist, at