RALEIGH (January 30, 2018) — Local labor market data continues to reveal a state with varying economic realities. While the Charlotte-Concord-Gastonia and Raleigh metro areas have demonstrated a remarkable rebound since the Great Recession, micro areas like Roanoke Rapids, Rockingham, Laurinburg, and Lumberton have seen 13 to 17 percent of their jobs disappear.

Since December of 2007, many of the areas slow to rebound were battered by two hurricanes that displaced people and businesses and disrupted the local economy.

“Many leaders point to Wall Street as a barometer of economic vitality in North Carolina, but in the wake of hurricanes Matthew and Florence, special attention must be given to communities struggling to get back on their feet economically,” said William Munn, Policy Analyst with the Budget and Tax Center, a project of the NC Justice Center. “North Carolina’s economic success cannot be solely bound to communities along the I-40 and I-85 corridor. Smart public investments in economic resilience must be made to ensure the state’s economic growth is equitably distributed regionally.”

Here are a few of the indicators that show an unbalanced recovery:

  • Concentrated employment growth: Since the Great Recession employment has expanded by double digits in Asheville (13%), Charlotte-Concord-Gastonia (27%), Burlington (17%), Durham-Chapel Hill (18%), Raleigh (31%), Greenville (12%), and Wilmington (15%). With the exception of Burlington, each of these metropolitan statistical areas (MSA) represent the state’s largest urban areas and underscores the decades-long trend of concentrated, uneven economic growth.
  • Rural pain: The contrast between several economic indicators in urban metros and the more rural micros throughout eastern North Carolina is worrying. While Laurinburg, Lumberton and Roanoke Rapids employment levels were static from last year, they are far below pre-recession levels. Laurinburg and Lumberton, communities hit hard by hurricanes in the last two years, have lost 17 and 13 percent of their employment since December of 2007. Data from today’s release show Fayetteville, the largest metropolitan area in this part of the state with anemic employment levels, remaining static since the recession. The Roanoke Rapids and Wilson micro areas, which sandwich Rocky Mount, have employment levels 16 and 14 percent lower than before the recession. Current unemployment rates in rural NC are among the highest in the state. The Laurinburg micro area current leads the state with a stubborn 6.9 percent of its residents looking for work, a full three points higher than the state average of 3.8 percent. The micro areas mentioned earlier — Lumberton, Wilson and Roanoke Rapids — also have unemployment rates nearly 2 points higher than the state average.
  • Vulnerable to the next recession: Large swaths of North Carolina are ill-prepared to contend with the next recession. Just two metropolitan statistical areas (Charlotte-Concord-Gastonia and Raleigh) account for nearly 2 million of North Carolina’s 4.7 million people who are employed, which underscores how little of the economic growth in recent years has occurred in small town and rural North Carolina. If growth continues to concentrate in a handful of cities, the overwhelming majority of communities in North Carolina will be extremely vulnerable when the current growth cycle comes to an end.

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.

FOR MORE INFORMATION, CONTACT William Munn, Budget & Tax Center Policy Analyst at will@ncjustice.org or 919.856.2234; Mel Umbarger, Senior Communications Specialist, mel@ncjustice.org.

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.