Continuing need for economic stimulus clear from September labor market figures

RALEIGH (Nov. 3, 2021) — Employment growth continued to be sluggish in September in most North Carolina local labor markets. The Delta variant has depressed the recovery in recent months, extending the financial hardship created by this pandemic.

“Just as we saw at the national and state levels, employment growth has been quite weak in most of the local labor markets across North Carolina,” said Patrick McHugh, Research Manager with the NC Budget & Tax Center. “Meanwhile, the North Carolina General Assembly is sitting on billions of dollars, both in federal aid and state revenue, which could really help the people and businesses most dramatically impacted by the economic fallout of COVID-19.”

View latest Labor Market Data

According to new labor market data from September 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 September than before the COVID-19 pandemic in 81 of North Carolina’s 100 counties. All but three of North Carolina’s metropolitan areas have fewer 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, 46 of 100 counties had fewer people working in September 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 September 2021 than before COVID-19 in 63 of 100 North Carolina counties, every major metropolitan area, and many 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 0.8 percent below pre-COVID levels and the Durham-Chapel Hill area within 1.7 percent of pre-COVID levels. Parts of the coast have also come back faster, with employment losses of 1.0 percent in Wilmington and 2.2 percent in New Bern, and a 1.8 percent gain in employment in Greenville. On the other hand, Asheville remains 5.7 percent below pre-COVID employment levels, Greensboro-High Point 5.0 percent below, Fayetteville 4.2 percent below, and Goldsboro 5.1 percent below. Charlotte and Winston-Salem are in the middle of the range of impacts at 2.5 percent and 3.0 percent below pre-COVID levels of employment, respectively.

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