Prosperity Watch Issue 52, No 1: Even in Metro Centers, Unemployment Grew Faster than Employment since the Start of the Great Recession

The conversation about our state’s economic landscape often starts from the assumption that several urban centers are doing extremely well, while much of rural North Carolina is still mired in recession. When you really look at the data, however, the picture is not so cut and dried. Even in comparative bright spots like Raleigh, Durham, Charlotte, Asheville, and Wilmington, the number of people looking for work has shot up much faster than the number of jobs since the start of the Great Recession.

As shown above, unemployment has outpaced employment in every metropolitan area in North Carolina since December 2007. Raleigh has posted the strongest job creation performance since December of 2007 at 17.2 percent, but the ranks of the unemployed have swelled by 67 percent. That means that, even in our state’s capital, the number of people looking for work has grown almost 4 times faster than the number of people with a job.

A similar pattern holds (unemployment outpacing job growth since 2007) for the other cities that are generally held up as examples of economic vitality:

  • unemployment grew roughly 9 times faster than employment in Durham-Chapel Hill
  • unemployment grew roughly 8 times faster than employment in Asheville
  • unemployment grew roughly 6 times faster than employment in Wilmington
  • unemployment grew roughly 2 times faster than employment in Charlotte.

Of the cities that have at least gotten back to pre-recession levels of employment, Goldsboro saw the most outsized increase in joblessness, with unemployment growing 118 times faster than employment. In one third of North Carolina’s metro areas, employment is still below where it stood before the recession, while all but one of these areas have seen unemployment increase over the same period.

Unfortunately, many rural communities are faring even worse. Only 18 counties now have more jobs than before the recession (mostly in the more populous parts of the state) and 63 counties have more people looking for work today than in 2007.

It has become too easy in recent years for analysts, elected representatives, and reporters to simply divide North Carolina into urban and rural camps and assume that some of the urban areas are doing just fine. The unfortunate truth is that nowhere in North Carolina can really lay claim to an economy that works for everyone.

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