Prosperity Watch (Issue 87, No. 1)
June 4, 2018 

Job growth stalled out across large swaths of North Carolina over the last year, most particularly in regions of the state that already faced the largest barriers to prosperity. Thirty-eight of North Carolina’s 100 counties lost jobs from April 2017 to April of this year, overwhelmingly in parts of the state that need economic growth the most keenly. The uneven growth pattern that has dominated since the Great Recession may be deepening, as employment flatlines or declines in many of the counties that had experienced the least recovery over the past several years.

Employment losses tended to occur in counties where job opportunities were already harder to come by. Counties that lost jobs over the past year had an average unemployment rate of 4.9 percent in April 2018, more than a point higher than the 3.7 percent average unemployment rate for counties that continued to add jobs.

The last year has also reinforced structural barriers to opportunity that are facing many communities of color. The swath of eastern North Carolina that is home to many overwhelmingly Black communities was particularly likely to experience employment losses, compounding longstanding challenges that many of these communities have faced in accessing jobs and economic opportunities. Statewide, Black North Carolinians account for roughly 30 percent of all residents in counties that lost jobs, while making up less than 15 percent of the population in counties where employment continued to grow.

The combination of recent job losses and historical barriers to accessing wealth threaten to extend cycles of poverty in many parts of the state. The average poverty rate in counties that lost jobs over the past year stood at 21.3 percent in the most recent poverty statistics, compared to 15.7 percent in counties that continued to add jobs. This disparity shows that our economy is sputtering in precisely the communities that most need robust growth to overcome historical disadvantages and recent lack of job opportunities.

These trends indicate that some of North Carolina’s deepest and most pressing economic challenges are getting worse, not better. Job growth has been uneven across North Carolina for this entire recovery, and these recent data show that some of the divides between prosperity and poverty have deepened in the past year.