The North Carolina Justice Center released its annual “State of Working North Carolina” report yesterday. The report, which is entitled “Equity in Employment,” highlights several important and underreported truths about the North Carolina economy. These include:
Things aren’t nearly as healthy as official unemployment statistics would imply. As the report explains:
North Carolina’s headline unemployment rate may be lower than it was before the Great Recession, but that’s not the same thing as actually recovering to levels of employment that existed in decades past. Less than 60 percent of North Carolinians have reported being employed during most of 2019, which is both lower than the national average and well shy of the levels that North Carolina reached in the past 30 years. North Carolina regularly achieved levels of employment throughout the 1990s that were substantially above the national rate, but the state has seen that record erode during the last few economic cycles.”
People of color and rural North Carolinians are being left behind in big numbers.
We have failed to erase the historic racial inequalities in employment, proof that many communities of color still face barriers to employment that their white neighbors do not. While North Carolina’s overall unemployment rate in 2018 has steadily declined since the worst of the Great Recession, that gradual improvement has not erased racial inequalities that long predate the last downtown. In the most recent data available, Hispanic North Carolinians experienced an unemployment rate roughly 50 percent higher than that of whites, and Black workers faced nearly double the rate of official unemployment…..
The headline unemployment rate hides deep geographic divides across North Carolina. A huge share of the employment growth in recent years has been concentrated in a handful of metropolitan areas, and those gains tend to mask losses elsewhere. As of May, 40 mostly rural counties still had fewer jobs than existed before the Great Recession, and 13 of those counties actually lost jobs in the last year.”
Stable employment remains elusive for many.
In 2017 (the most recent data available), just over half of North Carolinians between the ages of 16 and 64 worked at least 50 weeks during the year. Ten percent of working-age people worked between 27 and 49 weeks of the year, and the remaining one-third of North Carolinians did not work at all or worked fewer than 26 weeks….
The number of North Carolina workers employed by temp agencies has exploded over the past decade, going from just over 70,000 in 2008 to north of 100,000 last year. Temporary staffing has grown more than four times faster during the current economic expansion than overall employment, a telling sign of how working North Carolinians are being pushed into unstable and uncertain employment situations.”
Securing employment does not guarantee a decent income.
North Carolina has not escaped its history as a low-wage state. Even decades after manufacturing companies, which moved here in search of low wages and lax labor laws, have decamped overseas in an ongoing race to the bottom, workers in North Carolina are still paid less than the national and regional average. Compared to hourly wage earners nationwide, North Carolinians are paid roughly $1.40 less per hour, which translates into nearly $3,000 over the course of a full working year.
Perhaps even more alarming, progress in closing that pay gap has largely stalled in recent years. An hourly pay gap of about $3 below the national average in 1980 had been trimmed to just over $1 by the turn of the millennium as high-tech and other industries increasingly moved to the state.”
Women and people of color feel the effects of this reality most acutely.
Over the course of a full year of work, the current wage inequities result in both Black and Hispanic workers taking home more than $12,500 less than the white people they work with….[W]omen’s hourly pay has actually slipped further behind their male colleagues in the past few years. Following decades of slow progress that brought the gender wage gap in North Carolina from nearly $5 difference per hour in 1980 to under $2 in 2015, it grew again to $3 last year.”
North Carolina must do much more to address the barriers that stand in the way of a truly healthy economy. This includes addressing issues like:
- access to affordable transportation that will allow would-be workers in lower-income communities to commute to good jobs,
- the barriers that state law places in the way of those seeking to create new lives after having interaction with the criminal justice system, and
- flaws in our education system that cause many people – particularly student of color – to be left behind.
The report concludes with a call for North Carolina leaders to commit to the construction of an economy that eliminates historic racial and gender-based barriers. This is from the conclusion:
The ability to live a good life is a fundamental right and a value of modern societies….By embracing the work of building systems that connect people to good jobs rather than pursuing policies that erect barriers, North Carolina can achieve improved economic outcomes and a higher quality of life for the state’s people and communities.”
Click here to read the full report.