In March, the unemployment rate in NC was at 4.9 percent, slightly above the national unemployment rate, but below the state’s pre-recession unemployment level. Most states, according to an analysis by the Economic Policy Institute (EPI) saw a decrease in their unemployment rates in the first quarter of 2017, and also saw an increase in jobs. Overall this points to the economy going in a positive direction. Jobs are increasing and more people who are looking for work are finding it. However, beneath the surface we continue to see disparities in the unemployment picture for people of color, which threatens to undermine our economic growth.
EPI took a look at the state unemployment trends during the first quarter of 2017, by race and ethnicity. What it found is that the white unemployment rate continues to be relatively low, while the African-American and Hispanic unemployment rates persist at relatively high levels.
In NC, for instance, the white unemployment rate in the first quarter of 2017 was 4.2 percent. For African-Americans it was 7.5 percent and for Hispanics it as 5.3 percent. But this is not just a circumstance of the first three months of this year. EPI looked at the change in unemployment rates between the fourth quarter of 2007 and the first quarter of 2017. The analysis shows that the white unemployment rate in NC is now below what it was before the recession, while the unemployment rate for African-Americans and Hispanics is actually higher than it was before the recession.
There is also significant geographic disparity. The Budget and Tax Center’s analysis of the latest jobs numbers shows that there are several counties in NC that have lost jobs since 2007. These are particularly concentrated in the southeast and the northeast/coastal regions, which each experienced a job loss of 7 percent since 2007, as well as the northwestern border.
These data clearly show that the economic recovery and growth that the state and nation has seen in the past decade has not reached all Americans. The northeastern and southeastern counties highlighted in orange in the map above also happen to be more rural areas, and communities with high percentages of African-American and American Indian populations. Furthermore, these are also areas that have recently been impacted by Hurricane Matthew, which compounds the challenges.
There is still much to be done to ensure that the benefits of economic recovery and growth are enjoyed by all people. As our policy makers tout the great progress made in our economy in recent years, it is important that we account for these geographic, racial and ethnic differences. Unless these disparities are proactively addressed, these communities will continue to be vulnerable to economic and natural disasters.