by Paige Terryberry
Senior Analyst for Fiscal Policy, John Locke Foundation
North Carolina’s unemployment situation continued to improve in February as the unemployment rate dropped to 3.7%, according to the latest data from the North Carolina Department of Commerce. The national unemployment situation also improved in February with the national unemployment rate decreasing to 3.8%.
The Department of Commerce revealed a helpful supplemental data dashboard showing regional trends, comparisons, and other key indicators. The dashboard illustrates that while our unemployment rate dropped more from January than other states in the region, we still have higher unemployment than our neighbors.
North Carolina added 18,085 employed individuals over the month, an increase smaller than both January and December’s employment additions. However, the number of people unemployed in February decreased 10,157 from the prior month, a drop slightly larger than both January and December.
Professional and Business Services and Leisure and Hospitality Services had the largest increases over the month, adding 6,200 and 5,300 jobs respectively.
The Labor Force in February was 5,015,032 persons, further approaching the January 2020 pre-pandemic level of 5,110,632. The state’s unemployment rate of 3.7% is also nearing the January 2020 pre-pandemic rate of 3.6%. In the year before the pandemic, North Carolina often saw unemployment levels around 4.0%.
As in the last few months, North Carolina remains better than the national average in terms of unemployment, but inflation makes working life arduous.
Average weekly and hourly wages for private workers decreased slightly over the month – a double hit to any consumer as inflation rages on and eats up wage gains. Over the year, average private weekly earnings increased from $898.53 in February 2020 to $1,012.20 in February 2022, a 12.7% increase.
But with inflation at 7.9%, most of these gains are erased.
For low-income workers, the effects are most detrimental as they expend more of their income on necessities and have fewer choices at their disposal. Inflation in February rose at the fastest rate in four months, as annual inflation has reached heights not seen in four decades. Workers are paying 38% more for the same gas than they did a year ago, and 8.4% more for the same food.
Skyrocketing prices cause real pain and unfortunately distract from the economic growth our state experiences as we recover from the pandemic and government-induced lockdowns. Meanwhile leaders in Washington continue to justify more spending, blaming others for inflation.