Study: NC’s mid-sized cities feeling worst economic effects of pandemic

North Carolina news

RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) — Some of North Carolina’s mid-sized regional cities are feeling the worst economic effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, according to a recent study.

The study this week from the North Carolina Budget & Tax Center, a division of the North Carolina Justice Center, describes a shift in the locations where the pandemic’s economic impact is hitting hardest.

Patrick McHugh, a research manager for the nonprofit group, says more stimulus that would “put money directly in the pockets of people who are hurting now” is not only “the humane and just thing to do, it’s the economically shrewd thing to do.”

The group is calling for additional federal aid and an extension in unemployment benefits. According to federal data, North Carolina ranks last in the country in timely unemployment payments.

“If we don’t see more federal assistance and we don’t see the state stepping up to support those families that are still out of work and don’t have that financial cushion to fall back on, that’s when we’re going to really start to see the devastation of this pandemic really settling in on the communities that have the least financial cushion to fall back on,” McHugh said.

The study found 58 of the state’s 100 counties had fewer jobs in October than they had in December 2007, with the pandemic either erasing all job gains after the Great Recession a decade ago or making the still-lingering losses even worse.

While larger cities — Raleigh, Charlotte and Durham, in particular — rebounded relatively quickly, other places described as employment hubs for their respective regions are among the most affected.

Between February and October of this year, Asheville lost 8.9 percent of its jobs with similar losses in the Hickory area (8.3 percent), Goldsboro (7.6 percent) and Fayetteville (7.4 percent).

“While everyone’s still hurting — there’s no part of the state that’s getting off on this — some of the proportional losses have started to shift to who’s still the farthest down, to some of the regional job centers in the eastern and western part of the state,” McHugh said. “It’s becoming some of those regional job hubs outside of the major cities that are still experiencing some of the biggest proportional losses.”

Early in the pandemic, the worst impacts were felt in the largest cities and the areas in the state reliant on tourism. The metropolitan areas are more likely to be populated by employees who can work remotely.

“And so the communities where those jobs make up a larger share of the local labor force are coming back faster,” he said.

McHugh said the recession “is effectively already over” for people making more than $60,000 annually in the state. Not so for those making less than that.

“Those jobs are back, essentially, to where they were before the pandemic came along,” McHugh said. “But the real economic harm is unfortunately being concentrated at the lowest end of the income spectrum, where those were a lot of the job losses that happened initially and are still happening around our state.”

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