More residents trying to find work than before COVID-19 in 92 NC counties

RALEIGH (Sept. 29, 2021) — Continuing a trend that has held over the past several months, some communities and people in North Carolina are experiencing far more devastating economic consequences from COVID-19 than others.

“The Delta variant is putting the brakes on the recovery, and hundreds of thousands of North Carolinians are still unable to return to the labor force, so we need to do more to help people who are bearing the financial brunt of this ongoing pandemic,” said Patrick McHugh, Research Manager with the NC Budget & Tax Center. “Now that federal Unemployment Insurance benefits have expired, it’s all the more pressing to pass a state budget that helps people and communities that continue to experience the worst economic fallout from COVID-19.”

View latest Labor Market Data

According to new labor market data from August 2021, economic challenges facing North Carolina include:

  • Barriers are preventing hundreds of thousands of willing workers from returning to the labor market: As we documented in a recent report, hundreds of thousands of North Carolinians would like to work, but are prevented from doing so because of barriers like lack of access to affordable child care, transportation, concern about contracting COVID-19, and providing care for an elderly relative. In large part because of these kinds of barriers, there were fewer people in the labor market in August than before the COVID-19 pandemic in 84 of North Carolina’s 100 counties. Among North Carolina’s metropolitan areas, only Wilmington has more people engaged in the labor force than before the pandemic.
  • COVID-19 is threatening to compound some economic divides dating back to before the Great Recession: COVID-19 has either wiped out all of the job gains or deepened losses suffered since the Great Recession in half of North Carolina’s counties. In North Carolina, 50 of 100 counties had fewer people working in August 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. Additional economic and social indicators for North Carolina’s counties are available in our County Snapshots.
  • More people are looking for work in nearly every North Carolina community: The challenges for businesses in finding employees is not because people don’t want to work. Figures show more residents were trying to find work in August 2021 than before COVID-19 in 92 of 100 North Carolina counties, every major metropolitan area, and most smaller cities.

  • The Triangle and the coast lead the way in recovery, while other metro areas are still far more impacted: COVID-19 has impacted different regions of the state very differently, in ways that could extend economic divides that resulted from the Great Recession. The Research Triangle has rebounded much faster than many parts of the state, with Raleigh only 1.1 percent below pre-COVID levels and the Durham-Chapel Hill within 1.3 percent of pre-COVID levels. Parts of the coast have also come back faster, with employment losses of 1.3 percent in Wilmington, 1.3 percent in New Bern, and 1.0 percent in Greenville. On the other hand, Asheville remains 5.7 percent below pre-COVID employment levels, Greensboro-High Point 5.2 percent below, Fayetteville 4.4 percent below, and Goldsboro 4.1 percent below. Charlotte and Winston-Salem are in the middle of the range of impacts with both still 3.1 percent below pre-COVID levels of employment.

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 monthly 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