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Continued strong job growth in July bringing recovery to more of North Carolina

July labor market figures show more NC communities recovering the jobs lost to COVID-19. After adding more than 30,000 jobs in July, there are almost 170,000 more positions statewide than before COVID-19. While there are still many communities that need support to recover, there are encouraging signs that job growth has been more evenly spread across the state than in some earlier parts of the crisis.

First, let’s take a look at data showing that more communities have at least recovered what was lost in the first wave of COVID-19.

  • Most cities have more jobs than before COVID-19: Only three of North Carolina’s metropolitan areas still have fewer jobs than before COVID-19. Rocky Mount has the furthest to go to reach pre-COVID levels (1,400 jobs), followed by Greenville (1,100), and Goldsboro (200). The good news for even those communities is each of those figures represent less than 1 percent of pre-COVID employment, and only Rocky Mount has lost jobs in the past year. In September of last year, only Greenville had more jobs than before COVID-19, so July’s numbers are a clear sign that recovery has come to many more parts of North Carolina

  • More counties getting back to pre-COVID levels of employment: There are still 42 counties with fewer residents working than before COVID-19, but that number has been steadily falling over the past several months as more counties recover the ground that was lost. For example, in September 2021, over 80 counties had fewer people working than before COVID-19, and half of these have now made up those losses.

The time since COVID-19 has seen a similar pattern to what happened in the wake of the Great Recession. Recovery has come much more slowly, or not at all, to some parts of the state while some other regions see prodigious growth. We still have 50 counties with fewer people working than before the Great Recession because job growth in the past 15 years has been so heavily concentrated in a handful of urban centers.

The good news is there are signs that job growth in the past year has not been as heavily tilted toward a few places as it was in the early phases of the recovery from COVID 19:

  • Employment growth more evenly distributed over the past year: Ten counties with the greatest increases in jobs accounted for 58 percent of the net growth in residents working over the past year, a clear sign that job growth is still pretty concentrated in a few regions. However, ten counties (although not all the same counties) account for a whopping 96 percent of the net increase in residents working since the start of COVID-19. This shift indicates that while more of the recovery was concentrated in a few regions in the early phases of the pandemic, the past year has seen employment gains that are more widely spread across the state.

As we often underscore, these are uncharted economic waters and nothing that has happened recently foretells exactly what will unfold over the coming months and years. With federal assistance largely exhausted, we’re going to need to support communities having the toughest time recovering or we will likely see economic opportunities continue to tilt toward a few cities.

That said, we should also be encouraged that most communities have at least recovered the employment they lost and can start looking toward rebuilding on stronger economic foundations.