The State of Working North Carolina 2013: Lagging recovery highlights need for quality job creation, investments in workers

By Alexandra Forter Sirota, Allan Freyer, Tazra Mitchell & Sabine Schoenbach
September 2013

North Carolina continues to struggle to create jobs and grow the economy in a way that will improve the lives of working families in the state. More than four years after the Great Recession officially ended, the state remains mired in persistently high unemployment, growing underemployment, and declining incomes and wages. The jobs that are being created pay low wages, and the increased productivity of workers is not being rewarded with higher pay. North Carolina’s economy is stuck and many of its workers–especially those in rural communities and communities of color–are suffering. To turn things around, policymakers must make the sort of investments, particularly in education, which will lay the foundation for economic revival and long-term prosperity.

The State of Working North Carolina is published each year to provide an assessment of the economy with a focus on how workers are faring. The report pulls together the latest data on jobs, wages and the makeup of the labor force, with additional data on economic and geographic inequality. The picture is bleak:
  • North Carolina’s median wage is now lower than it was in 1999, when inflation is taken into account. Nearly a quarter of workers earn less than the poverty threshold for a family of four–$22, 811 in 2011. 
  • North Carolina has yet to recover all of the jobs it lost during the recession, and job growth is failing to keep up with population growth. 
  • Most of the jobs created since the end of the recession have been in lower- paying services like food processing, retail and hospitality, and now account for 83 percent of employment in the state. 
  • Income inequality between the top wage earners and those at the bottom has grown markedly. African Americans have been hit particularly hard, earning nearly $5 less per hour on average than their white counterparts. 
  • Rural areas of the state continue to lose jobs, while large and small metropolitan areas are slowly adding jobs. 

The State of Working North Carolina will give policymakers, the public and advocates for meaningful change insight into the economic trends that made North Carolina so vulnerable during the last recession and that continue to hamper the state’s recovery. 
 
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