Natalie Allison

N.C. unemployment rate drops slightly, mirroring U.S. average: Alamance County residents use local resources to find work

Slowly but surely, people in the U.S. are getting back to work — and that trend is being mirrored in North Carolina, too.

sum it upUnemployment in the state fell half a percentage point from last April, putting the rate of workers without a job to 8.9 percent last month. The North Carolina unemployment rate was also down from March’s rate of 9.2 percent.

But the news that more of the labor force is getting back to work in North Carolina could be overshadowed by looming cuts to unemployment benefits, slated to take effect July 1.

A law passed in February in the General Assembly reduces the maximum unemployment benefits by one-third, decreasing the rate from $535 per week to $350. In addition, the bill reduces the length of jobless benefits from 26 weeks to a range of 12 to 20 weeks, based on the state’s current unemployment rate, and no longer offers benefits for workers who leave their jobs for health or family reasons.

Backed by Republicans, the legislation was designed to pay back $2.5 billion the state owes to the federal government for previous unemployment benefits. The Legislature intends to speed up the state’s debt-paying process, which will eventually ease the burden of a federal per-employee tax, according to the bill.

Jason Husser, assistant director of the Elon University Poll and an assistant professor of political science, said the taxes on employers that businesses must pay fund the unemployment benefits system.

“It’s like an insurance system for the state,” Husser said. “Ultimately, the system is funded by employers.”

Husser said cuts to jobless benefits could make people less inclined to continuing waiting for high paying jobs.

“It might encourage people to take jobs they wouldn’t otherwise take,” he said. “Someone may be expecting to make $40,000 a year, but instead take a job paying $10 an hour that makes $20,000 a year.”

A trend like that would have its own set of consequences, Husser said.

Glenda Morrow, community resource coordinator at Burlington’s Goodwill Community Resource Center, said both the number of people coming in to the center and job placements have exceeded the organization’s benchmarks.

“We feel that we’re able to help the individuals that probably have exhausted the employment office,” she said.

In addition to allowing job seekers to use the center’s computers and providing help with resumes, the resource center offers classes on interviewing tips, dressing for success, Microsoft Excel, money management, basic computer skills and other topics.

In April, the resource center saw 227 unique job seekers, exceeding its goal of 190.

Morrow said she and volunteers at the resource center see a large number of older adults coming in, uncertain about how to start or switch careers.

“A lot of the older population comes in, and we have to give them advice and tell them not to give up,” she said.

Husser said on the other hand, young adults who have been unable to land jobs for which they’re qualified have also factored into the unemployment rate.

“Millennials fall into it in a strange way,” he said. “People like recent graduates who are underemployed or not seeking a job for some reason are not considered unemployed, though arguably, some are.”

Such an example points to a larger debate concerning the unemployment rate, he said, which is determined by the percentage of the labor force that is unemployed but actively looking for work.

“Especially during the election, the rate was under scrutiny because more people were out of work than was reflected,” he said.

However, public opinion on elected officials and how their policies affect unemployment goes beyond the jobless rate released each month. According to Husser, the number itself isn’t as important to people as how they’re affected in day-to-day life.

“What really makes a difference is how people have experienced it on the ground,” he said. “It’s that they have experienced it in the world and it’s reflective of the world.”

Unemployment rates by state