North Carolina is expected to make continued economic gains in 2017, but improvements for some workers may not show up in conventional data.
That’s because economic data captures the quantity of jobs more readily than it captures the quality of jobs, said Wells Fargo Securities economist Mark Vitner at the 2017 Economic Forecast event hosted Thursday by the Greater Raleigh Chamber of Commerce.
Vitner said that as North Carolina’s economy expands, those subtle improvements may become more difficult to track. For example, part-time workers may find full-time jobs, and contract workers may find permanent jobs, or workers may simply find better-paying jobs. Such professional advances at the individual level would leave no mark on the state’s unemployment figures.
Moreover, Vinter noted, if someone stuck with two part-time jobs lands a full-time job, the data would show the loss of a job.
Vitner predicted the state would gain about 100,000 jobs in 2017, slightly fewer than the job gains expected for 2016, but said some of the gains would be reflected in the quality of the jobs. Likewise, he predicted the Triangle would gain about 30,000 jobs in 2017, down from an expected 35,000 jobs gained in 2016.
“The labor market has tightened up,” he said after his presentation at the Duke Center for Performing Arts. “People are more selective in their job search ... and companies try harder to hold on to good people.”
North Carolina’s job growth is outpacing the nation as a whole, but job gains in the state have primarily benefited metropolitan areas, like the Triangle and Charlotte. The quality gains Vitner predicted apply to a subset of jobs, typically in technology, finance and business services. Sectors that are struggling, like traditional manufacturing, are not expected to rebound, Vitner said.
“This has been a very big-city economic recovery,” he said.
Skeptics about the state’s economic recovery point out that much of the post-Recession gains have been in low-paying jobs. That wage pattern was borne out in a mid-2016 report by South by North Strategies, a research firm in Chapel Hill. The report said that 45 percent of jobs created between February 2010 and March 2016 were in three sectors known for low pay and meager benefits: retail trade, administrative and waste management, leisure and hospitality. The report noted that in March 2016 those industries accounted for 28 of every 100 jobs in the state.
The Triangle’s jobless rate was 4.3 percent in November, compared to 5 percent statewide, and 4.6 percent nationally.
Vitner also said that his speeches and presentations around the nation have taught him that the negative aftereffects of House Bill 2 continue to dog the state. The legislation, passed in March, prohibits anti-discrimination bills by local governments and prevents transgender people from using government bathrooms that don’t correspond to the gender on their birth certificate.
The state legislature gathered for a special session last month to repeal HB2, but was unable to come to a consensus and left the law in place.
The state has lost hundreds of jobs from revoked expansions and canceled conferences as a result of the legislation, and the so-called bathroom law is causing untold damage to the state’s reputation, Vitner said.
“I travel around the country quite a bit, and I hear about it all the time,” Vitner said. “We need to get rid of it. It is such a reputation risk.”
The audience in the performing arts center listened quietly as Vitner spoke, but erupted in spontaneous applause with his concluding statement on the subject.
“Not only do we need to get rid of it because of the economic losses,” Vitner said. “We need to do it because it’s the right thing to do.”