Jobless rate declines, so does labor force


Staff Writer

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

While the latest reports from the state Department of Commerce show declines in unemployment rates in all 100 North Carolina counties, data from the N.C. Justice Center reveal 38 of the state’s counties — mostly from Eastern North Carolina — have lost jobs from April 2017 to April of this year.

Patrick McHugh, economic analyst for the liberal-leaning N.C. Justice Center’s Budget and Tax Center, said the problem with the recovery is that it hasn’t really addressed the long-standing challenges that a lot of the communities already were facing, particularly those in Eastern North Carolina. Counties that lost jobs over the past year had an average unemployment rate of 4.9 percent in April, more than a point higher than the 3.7 percent average unemployment rate for counties that continued to add jobs.

April’s unemployment rate in the Twin Counties showed Edgecombe County with the third-highest jobless rate among the state’s 100 counties at 7.1 percent. Edgecombe County’s labor force dropped from 22,429 in April 2017 to 21,884 in April of this year.

Nash County’s April jobless rate ranked 12th-highest in the state at 5.2 percent. Nash County’s labor force declined from 43,333 in April 2017 to 42,967 in April of this year.

The Rocky Mount Metropolitan Statistical Aarea, which is comprised of Nash and Edgecombe counties, continues to have the highest jobless rate among the 15 metro areas in the state at 5.8 percent. The labor force in the Rocky Mount MSA fell from 65,762 in April 2017 to 64,851 in April. Over the year, the Rocky Mount metro area has suffered a decrease of 400 jobs over the year, which is second among metro areas behind Goldsboro with 800 job losses.

Charlotte-Concord-Gastonia had the largest net employment increase over the year at 32,500 followed by Raleigh at 18,200, Winston-Salem at 4,600, Durham-Chapel Hill at 3,600 and Asheville at 3,500, which had the lowest unemployment rate at 3.0 percent. Raleigh was second at 3.2 percent, Durham-Chapel Hill at 3.3 percent and Charlotte-Concord-Gastonia at 3.4 percent. 

“You look at last year, a lot of those counties still had higher unemployment rates and are losing jobs or at least not adding jobs,” McHugh said. “The divide that exists between Eastern North Carolina particularly and those more rapidly growing metro areas was already there before the recession, and what we’re looking at now is getting even worse. While a lot of Eastern North Carolina counties have lost jobs over the last year, the metro areas like Raleigh, Durham-Chapel Hill, Asheville and Charlotte or Mecklenburg area continued to add jobs.”

McHugh said uneven job growth in North Carolina during the recovery isn’t the only pressing economic challenge taking place. 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, compared to 15.7 percent in counties that continued to add jobs.

McHugh said the past year also has reinforced structural barriers to opportunity that face 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,” he said.” 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.”