New push needed to cut jobless rate

June 24, 2013 

The North Carolina unemployment rate dipped 0.1 percent in May to 8.8 percent, marking the fourth straight month of decline and to a rate now 0.7 lower than a year ago.

That should be good news, right? But the truth is, it’s no news, and when it comes to the long run of high rates of joblessness, no news is bad news.

It’s encouraging to see the rate decline, but what’s really happening is that the economies in the state and nation lack the momentum to make real gains against unemployment.

“It’s the same jobs report we’ve seen every month for years,” said John Quinterno of South by North Strategies, a Chapel Hill economic and social policy consulting firm. “I don’t see anything that’s going to cause the status quo to change.”

Quinterno’s glumness may actually be optimism – for there are signs that the status quo could change for the worse. The report shows that North Carolina lost 5,900 jobs in May, giving back 10 percent of the job gains over the past year. And where job growth occurred, it was concentrated in hospitality, food service and clerical positions that often entail low pay and scant benefits.

While the unemployment rate has dropped from 9.5 percent to 8.8 percent over the past year, much of the new hiring may reflect a downturn in quality jobs.

“We have lost generally higher paying jobs, and the (job) growth we’ve had has tended to be in lower paying jobs,” Quinterno said. “There is the potential for downward mobility in that process.”

State leaders can’t do much to change a sputtering national economy. What’s needed is a national push to drive down high unemployment. Republicans and Democrats alike have failed to bring attention, energy and dollars to the problem of so many out of work or underemployed. Until they do, high unemployment will remain a frustrating new normal.

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