“North Carolina’s labor market is unraveling and no community is safe,” North Carolina Budget and Tax Center Research Associate John Quniterno said in a release by the North Carolina Justice Center Wednesday. “Even communities that are supposed models of the ‘new’ economy have been buffeted. In the Research Triangle, unemployment reached 8.7 percent in January and in the greater Charlotte region, 12.4 percent of the labor force was unemployed.”
A recent poll found North Carolinians as a whole have the economy at the top of their list of concerns for the Old North State.
The poll, conducted by Elon University in March, found 70 percent of those who responded listed either the economy or jobs and unemployment as the top issues facing the state.
North Carolina reached record unemployment rates in the month of February by posting 10.7 percent unemployment after seasonal adjustments.
A release by the North Carolina Employment Security Commission said the figure has never been that high since the state began seasonally adjusting data in 1976.
The tally only accounts for those who are registered and actively-seeking work, not those who have given up on finding a job, exhausted their unemployment benefits or are under-employed.
Still, these numbers reflect a negative trend in that the state has now posted increases in joblessness for 13 months in a row, seeing its jobless rate literally double since March of 2008.
Here in Richmond County, the unemployment rate has now eclipsed 15 percent after posting another percentile increase in February. In neighboring Scotland County it is 16.9 percent, and in Anson 14.9.
Even in neighboring Moore County, known as a traditionally affluent area, the numbers reached double digits for January, and posted 11 percent in February.
Quinterno points to the speed at which this contraction is taking place, particularly in the urban areas of the state.
“What is striking is just how rapidly the labor market has collapsed,” he said. “In the Piedmont Triad, the unemployment rate jumped to 11.5 percent from 7.1 percent over a four-month period.”
In an interview Wednesday afternoon, Quinterno went into more detail about what economic woes in the metropolitan areas of the state mean for the rural areas of the state.
“Really, over the past 15 or 20 years, the metropolitan areas have been the economic engine that drove the growth of the state’s economy, for good or bad,” he said.
He explained there are several ways the metropolitan areas directly or indirectly affect the economies of rural areas.
“The actual impact plays out differently in different communities,” Quinterno continued. “For instance, in the case of places like Richmond County, unemployment was really high at the beginning of this recession. A lot of these places had never worked out the problems from (the recession in) 2001. In Richmond County, you had 7.9 percent unemployment to begin the recession, and now you’ve gone up to 15 percent. In Scotland County, it’s 16.9 percent...
“You’re starting from a higher point, and in many ways, while the details vary a great bit from community to community, when the metro areas falter, it is adding another weight on the backs of the rural areas.”
The release also pointed out there is some good news for the unemployed, as government at the federal and state level has begun to act to abate the labor situation facing the state’s citizens.
It discusses the recently announced $25 increase to unemployment insurance benefits taking effect in April, and being measured retroactively to the week of February 28.
In addition, the Internal Revenue Service recently announced it would let the unemployed collect their first $2,400 worth of unemployment benefits income tax-free for the year 2009.
North Carolina Insurance Commissioner Wayne Goodwin announced his support of a bill in the state senate that would extend federal benefits, including assistance in paying for COBRA medical coverage, to laid-off workers from small businesses Wednesday.
According to a North Carolina Department of Insurance release, this measure, if passed, would extend the period of time a person laid-off from a business which employs 20 or less people would have to elect whether they wish to continue their coverage through COBRA or not, as well as providing a subsidy to pay up to 65 percent of the premium for both COBRA and mini-COBRA for these qualified labor market casualties.
American Recovery and Reinvestment Act funding is also in the process of being allocated to expand assistance to workers who qualify for the Trade Readjustment Act or Trade Adjustment Assistance programs, and provide expanded programs to train adults and youth for employment.