Data from the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) shows positive trends in North Carolina’s tight job market over the past 6 months, but not all industries are benefiting as much as others.
From April to September 2022, the state’s civilian labor force increased from 5,056,500 to 5,128,300 workers, and employment saw a relatively small increase of almost 100,000 jobs (4,883,200 to 4,944,100).
The industry that saw the highest positive 12-month percent change in September was the Leisure & Hospitality sector (+11.5 percent), followed by the Professional & Business sector (+8.5 percent). The lowest positive 12-month change came from the Government (+0.5 percent) and the Mining and Logging sectors (0.0 percent.)
On the other hand, the unemployment rate and the number of unemployment claims increased from April to September 2022, clocking in at a 0.2 point change (from 3.4 to 3.6 percent) and a 10,900 claim increase (from 173,300 to 184,200), respectively.
North Carolina’s job openings peaked at about 380,000 in March 2022 before declining to approximately 341,000 openings by August. Large corporations like Amazon and Microsoft have announced hiring freezes and their intentions to layoff workers while retailers such as Walmart, for instance, warned that they will be hiring fewer seasonal workers during the holiday season.
Many of the state’s industries are facing some of the most challenging labor shortages yet seen, exacerbated in part by the pandemic. Some hospitals in the Triangle, for example, report that their nursing staff shortages are worse now than they were at the peak of the pandemic. One health system estimates that one-third of their nursing positions are currently vacant.
Restaurants report they are still struggling finding staff, and the manufacturing industry, which accounts for the state’s most massive job announcements in recent years, is grappling with their own labor shortages. First responders have been short staffed for decades, and the pandemic proved only to worsen the situation.
North Carolina has seen many of its jobs return since the immense unemployment spike and worker shortages in early 2020, whose recovery in part was thanks to the stimulus money approved by Congress and low interest rates set by the Federal Reserve, according to Andrew Berger-Gross, senior economist at the N.C. Department of Commerce.
“We’ve got a lot of money floating around in this economy, a lot of consumers who are looking to spend,” said Berger-Gross in an interview, adding that “the pandemic, and… the government’s response to the pandemic, has made our economy run even hotter and contributed to hiring challenges from employers.”
Berger-Gross also said that underlying demographic trends may have contributed to the recent labor shortages, including lower birth rates, an aging population with more retirements, an increasing number of people entering college before the workforce, and relatively low immigration rates compared to the 1980s and 1990s.
Despite the progress the state has made, issues beneath the surface still remain. Inflation is at a 40-year high, and people are preparing for another recession, which would ease labor shortages at the expense of workers and is not guaranteed to fix inflation. A recession would also do little to address the underlying demographic trends that have contributed to a cutthroat market. North Carolina needs a solution, or multiple, that will uplift workers, alleviate labor shortages, and fuel the economy.