Unemployment rates are up in 72 N.C. counties since January | News

Unemployment rates are up in 72 N.C. counties since January


  • Photo by Justin Cook

So much for the Carolina Comeback: according to some recent labor market data on unemployment released by the left-leaning NC Justice Center, unemployment is up in North Carolina.

81 counties in the state continue to have more unemployed workers than before the beginning of the Great Recession—roughly December of 2007—and 91 of the state’s 100 counties had more than one jobless worker per job opening in August.

And last night, the General Assembly passed a bill that will restrict food aid for poor, childless adults who live in the counties in the state where jobs are the fewest, no matter how hard they’re looking for work. That’s coupled with the drastic slash in the state’s unemployment benefits that are pushing desperate North Carolinians to get their meals from already-stretched-thin food banks. 

Under federal law, states are given a time limit of three months for how long adults— 18-50 years-old and without children— are allowed to stay on food stamps, if those people aren’t working or volunteering for 20 hours a week, or aren’t in a job training program.

But economically distressed states like North Carolina, which does not offer a job training program, are allowed to apply for SNAP waivers that suspend work-related time limits on federal food aid. In July, North Carolina officials from the state’s Department of Health and Human Services applied for a waiver for 77 counties due to a severe lack of jobs available in those areas.

If Gov. McCrory signs the ironically named Protect North Carolina Workers Act, the federal waivers, which would have been in place through the whole of 2016, will only be in place through July 1 of next year. Then the state would be banned permanently from seeking waivers beyond the three-month limit; they could not reapply for a waiver for 2017 and beyond, even if the economic climate in the state has not improved (and there’s little indication that it will.)

Tazra Mitchell, a policy analyst at the NC Justice Center, says between 85,000 and 105,000 unemployed, childless adults in North Carolina could be affected by this measure.

“The new law will increase hunger,” she told the INDY on Wednesday. “The ban does not account for the economic reality, and lawmakers are tying the hands of the Governor by taking away his authority to adapt policy needs to meet local economic needs.”

To compound the problem, the state has not invested in a robust employment training program to deliver skills training to workers in North Carolina’s poorest areas; volunteer opportunities in those rural areas are very hard to come by as well, since there’s no strong non-profit sector.

“In clear contrast to their rhetoric, [lawmakers’] policy choices have not sought to bridge the skills gap but instead have underfunded and under-delivered in training workers for the jobs of today and the future,” said Alexandra Sirota, the director of the NC Justice Center’s Budget and Tax Center.

“There are simply too few jobs for those who want to work. Without food assistance, North Carolinians will not be able to meet their nutritional needs or spend dollars locally.”

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