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A closer look at N.C.'s unemployment rate

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Can't find a job?

It's easy to blame yourself as you watch the state's unemployment rate plunge, from 11.2 in March of this year to 9.6 in September. You see state political leaders taking a victory lap on television and that makes you feel even worse. If other unemployed people seem to be getting jobs, family and friends point out, surely you can too.

You've been pounding the pavement for months though, and you keep hearing that things are getting better, but you've got this gut sense that they are actually getting worse.

You're not imagining this. The state of North Carolina is bleeding jobs. As in losing them. Gone. Buh-bye. How can that be if the unemployment rate is going down?

The unemployment rate is horribly misleading. As former business writer and MeckDeck.com blogger Jeff Taylor pointed out, since March, when the unemployment rate in North Carolina hit a high for the year of 11.2 percent, the state has actually lost 8,700 jobs.

For those who know how to read it, Friday's jobs report was a bloodbath as 6,700 jobs disappeared statewide in a single month. According to the state employment security commission's seasonally adjusted estimates, the total employed number in September was 4,048,220. That's down from 4,054,885 in August.

An eighth grader could see the arc in state employment in this simple graph on the Employment Commission website. For the first five months of the year, total employment grew steadily as the state and the nation appeared to be slowly recovering. Then it hit a wall in May with a high of 4,095,438 and began to reverse course.

Ever wonder why economists now say they don't expect things to improve until at least 2012 despite the drop in the unemployment rate? This is why.

So why is the state unemployment rate going down? Because 13,186 people dropped out of the state labor pool in September, presumably leaving the ranks of those actively hunting for a job in frustration. That's why the unemployment rate continues to go down even as thousands of jobs vanish.

Meanwhile, the political cabal running the state jumped to take credit for another decrease in unemployment rate ahead of the election. They credited their economic policies, which included, uh, hiking taxes in the middle of a recession and um, spending more than they did the year before while claiming to be broke. As you can see, that's going smashingly.

We can only hope for another tax hike and spending increase next year. Maybe we can knock the raw jobs number down to three million and so many people will give up looking for work that the unemployment rate will go down even further ... like to 8 percent. Problem solved.

As Taylor points out, there were 282,775 fewer jobs in the state in September than there were in January 2008, at the height of pre-recession employment.

The raw job numbers aren't just headed to Hades in North Carolina. The national trend is almost identical as the total employed numbers drop and the workforce shrinks because people have given up looking for a job and dropped out.

Between January and April, according to the Employment Security Commission, total seasonally adjusted employment in this country grew by 1,122,000 jobs, a good sign. Then it abruptly reversed course, declining by 64,000 by September. That means that roughly 12 percent of that decline was in North Carolina. Not good.

If you are struggling with the stigma of unemployment, which can eat at your self-image after a while, know this: It's likely not your fault. You are not alone. And you may want to consider a move to Texas. Half the net new jobs in the country were created there over the past year.

The state has no income tax, barebones regulation of business and is among the nation's 10 lowest for overall tax burden. (North Carolina regularly ranks among the top 10 to top 11 highest-taxed states.)

Perhaps this is all just a fluke. Maybe things will get better. But if I were unemployed, I'd be loading up the U-Haul and heading west.

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