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N.C. has 70% plunge in new unemployment claims as fewer employers letting go of workers
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N.C. has 70% plunge in new unemployment claims as fewer employers letting go of workers

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North Carolina reached a pandemic low of just 1,976 new unemployment insurance claims last week, down nearly 70% as employers remain reluctant to lay off workers in a tight job market.

The U.S. Labor Department on Thursday reported the state with 1,976 new claims for the week that ended Dec. 11.

That’s down a revised 6,465 claims for the week that ended Dec. 4.

With no COVID-19 pandemic UI programs available currently for North Carolinians, the totals represent new regular state unemployment-benefit claims.

The state was 28th in the nation in the number of unemployment filings, down 12 spots from last week.

“Both initial and continuing claims for regular state-funded unemployment insurance compensation have been trending downward for the past few months,” said John Quinterno, principal with South by North Strategies Ltd., a Chapel Hill research company specializing in economic and social policy.

“Improvements in the labor market likely account for some of this, as people are less likely to be laid off and may have an easier time finding work due to tighter labor markets.”

Michael Walden, an economics professor at N.C. State University, said the drop in initial claims follows the continuing improvement in the state economy.

“Aggregate production in the state is now above pre-pandemic levels, and — despite the new variant — there is ongoing optimism about both the national and state economies,” Walden said.

“The biggest upcoming challenge will be from the Federal Reserve, which is expected to begin back-tracking from its stimulus efforts in order to contain inflation.

“The Fed’s goal of having the economy continuing to grow while squeezing inflation out of the economy is very, very difficult to achieve.”

State benefits

North Carolinians determined currently to be eligible for regular state UI benefits can draw up to 13 weeks — the lowest level offered by any state — that provide a maximum weekly benefit of $350, although the average claimant receives about $235.

By comparison, the state’s highest weekly total for claims related to the pandemic was 172,745 for the week that ended March 28, 2020.

As of Sept. 5, nearly 178,000 jobless North Carolinians no longer received the $300 in weekly federal benefits.

U.S. Labor listed 19,868 North Carolinians drawing regular state benefits as of Dec. 4, down from 22,560 the previous week.

Once the 13 regular state benefit weeks run out, N.C. claimants have to wait another 39 weeks before they can file again.

The expiration of federal jobless benefits on Sept. 4 has yet to result — projected for months by federal and state Republican lawmakers — in a wave of unemployed North Carolinians returning to the state’s workforce.

The $300 per week extended federal UI payments kept some potential employees on the sidelines since they made more from not working than in a minimum- to low-wage job.

According to the monthly N.C. household employment survey released Nov. 19, there was a 4,786 month-over-month gain in the state’s labor force during October, following a 10,423 jump in September.

The October labor force totals represented an 11,009 uptick in those listed as employed, as well as a 6,223 decline in those listed as unemployed.

Before the federal pandemic benefits ended, there was a net gain of 11,761 to the state’s labor force from July to August.

Yet, several Republican legislators continue to press — including at recent meetings focused on COVID-19 federal relief funding distribution — that the labor shortage still remains tied to what they considered as overly generous federal UI benefits.

People who are not actively looking for work are counted as part of the labor force, but excluded from the calculations for determining the state, metropolitan statistical and county-level jobless rates.

Quinterno said hiring plans remain vulnerable to the levels of community spread of COVID-19.

“Should a winter surge occur, which seems likely given the rapid spread of the omicron variant, we may wind up with a slowing job market,” Quinterno said.

“Impacted individuals will have fewer resources on which to draw given the expiration of all the enhanced unemployment insurance programs and other forms of pandemic relief.

“If the public health situation deteriorates, early 2022 could be a difficult time for the labor market,” he said.

National outlook

North Carolina’s substantial drop in initial UI claims ran counter to the national results, which were up 18,000 to 206,000 last week.

The Nov. 27 total of 188,000 initial claims was not only the lowest weekly claims count for the pandemic, but the lowest weekly total since September 1969.

“On the other side of the equation, the number of job openings remains very high at more than 11 million as of last count,” McBride said.

“This affirms that workers are very often in the driver’s seat seeking or retaining jobs.

“Establishments are cautious about letting people go because of the challenge filling opening positions.”

There were 2.46 million individuals nationwide with an active claim as of Nov. 27.

About 2.12 million workers drew state benefits and 330,602 received federal benefits, mostly extended benefits that have ended for North Carolinians.

“The economic recovery continues at a robust pace despite no shortage of challenges, with COVID and inflation topping the list,” said Mark Hamrick, senior economist with Bankrate.com.

“With job openings as high as they are, and so many employers scrambling to retain and/or add personnel, job security might be viewed as one of the gifts of the current holiday season, at least from a worker’s point of view.”

Richard Craver: 6 stories that defined 2021

COVID-19 and politics, whether local, state or national, spilled over from 2020 to saturate much of how 2021 has been defined.

The second impeachment trial of former President Donald Trump led to an intriguing split vote of North Carolina's two Republican U.S. senators on whether to convict.

The arrival of the one-year anniversary of the pandemic proved to stir an array of emotions as local residents tried to process everything that’s happened by mid-March 2020 ... and continues to date.

The socioeconomic spillover from COVID-19 persuaded two Winston-Salem nondenominational churches to chose transformation over construction for their new worship centers.

Politics seeped into how high school sports are overseen with a Republican-sponsored bill that threatened the existence of the N.C. High School Athletic Association. The spark behind House Bill 91 appears to have been a slow burn of nearly two years between a GOP senator and NCHSAA leaders.

An often overlooked factor in the worker-shortage discussion is that the pandemic has led more North Carolinians to retire early, or to finally follow through on delayed retirement plans dating back potentially to the Great Recession.

Finally, Truist Financial Corp. Kelly King retired as chief executive by reflecting on a career — and life — path that represented his Christian faith, a hard-driven work ethic, a belief in giving back and discovering and acting on a purpose forged during a spiritual awakening.

Those are major reasons why King, who could spend his retirement days anywhere, is coming back to Winston-Salem. There’s some unfinished business to accomplish here.

336-727-7376

@rcraverWSJ

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