After increasing for four consecutive months, North Carolina’s unemployment rate plateaued in December at 3.9%, according to the latest release from the North Carolina Department of Commerce.

North Carolina’s unemployment rate moved above the national average in September 2022. The state’s rate still sits above the national average, which dropped to 3.5% in December. 

In North Carolina, the number of people employed decreased by 2,447 over the month, while the number of unemployed increased by 486. 

The state’s seasonally adjusted labor force participation rate (the number of employed and unemployed looking for work divided against the state’s noninstitutionalized civilian population above age 16) decreased by 0.1% to 60.3% in December. Before the pandemic, the rate was 61.3% in February 2020.

If the labor force participation were at pre-pandemic levels, our state would have 85,040 more people in the labor force. If all those jobless people were added back into the labor force, North Carolina’s calculated unemployment rate would be 5.5%. 

 Moreover, inflation continues to stretch families’ budgets as it surpasses wage gains. Over the year, average private weekly wages in the state (not seasonally adjusted) increased 3.33%. Inflation, on the other hand, increased 6.5%. Real wages have declined, and North Carolinians received a pay cut. 

At the national level, headlines read that the economy added 223,000 jobs in December. President Biden applauded the report as evidence of “a transition to steady and stable growth.” Yet while those jobs numbers are based on a survey of businesses, the survey that generates the unemployment rate is from a survey of households. These two surveys have been diverging, with the establishment survey of businesses showing stronger gains. People who work multiple jobs are counted once in the household survey, but multiple times in the establishment survey of businesses. As inflation steams ahead, a recession looms, and savings dry up, workers may be taking additional jobs just to stay afloat. 

Indeed, since June North Carolina’s household survey data shows a loss of nearly 6,000 jobs, compared to an increase in business payroll numbers of more than 92,000. The divergence of nearly 100,000 in six months is notable. 

In North Carolina and nationally, economies are stalling. The latest Civitas poll shows 59% of North Carolina voters think we are already in a recession. Nationally, the sentiment is no different. 65% believe we are in a recession.