Why do Raleigh’s unemployment numbers stack up so well nationally?

North Carolina news

RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) — The unemployment rate in Raleigh climbed less drastically during the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic than it did in the vast majority of other large cities across the country, a study finds.

Those rates were up everywhere, as pandemic-related business closures led to widespread job losses and historically high unemployment figures in some places a year ago, but the study of federal job numbers found the increase was not as pronounced in Raleigh as it was in other places.

According to the study, Raleigh’s rate this year was only 1.9 times bigger than it was a year ago — a smaller increase than all but three of the other 52 large metro areas defined as having 1 million or more people.

The only cities where the increases were smaller — Louisville, Kentucky; and the Arizona cities of Phoenix and Tucson, where the current rate was 1.7 times what it was a year ago.

At the other extreme were two areas dependent on the tourism industry — which suffered as travel slowed to a halt amid the pandemic. The rate in Las Vegas was 3.6 times what it was last year while it was 3.2 times larger in Orlando, Florida.

“The Triangle area, the Raleigh, Durham area, tended to fare better,” said John Quinterno, an economic policy expert and professor at the Sanford School of Public Policy at Duke University.

Other places in the area and across the state showed similar increases: Durham and Chapel Hill, which the study grouped together as a midsize metro area with between 350,000 and 999,999 people, showed an increase of 1.8 percent — a number comparable to Raleigh’s but closer to the middle of the pack in its population group.

The 1.9 percent rate increase in Fayetteville matched that of Raleigh, and Charlotte’s increase was slightly higher at 2.1 percent.

But why did the Triangle cities hold up relatively well?

Quinterno says it mostly has to do with the types of jobs that are prevalent here: Technology, state government, health care and higher education.

“Our industrial structure leans more toward the kind of professional, scientific, health, higher-education services that were a bit less impacted,” Quinterno said.

Either demand from consumers in those fields remained high, or those workers could work remotely without much difficulty, he said.

“These were industries that were better able to, after the initial shock, pivot to online work, which was helpful,” Quinterno said.

So, does that mean those cities may not have quite as far to go in their recoveries than those tourist-driven places?

Not necessarily, Quinterno said, cautioning that it’s still important to keep an eye on the virus — even as the key metrics continue to improve.

“We are still not out of the woods yet,” Quinterno said. “We still have a dangerous deadly disease that exists that is circulating. We don’t know what twists and turns that will take, or what problems we will have come the fall — whether that’s new variants, or when the weather starts to change. 

“So I still think the virus is driving those driving the big picture,” he said. “So I wouldn’t necessarily want to run out and say it’s all over and we should we can just go back to the way things used to be because there could still be surprises waiting for us.”


CBS 17’s Joedy McCreary has been tracking COVID-19 figures since March 2020, compiling data from federal, state, and local sources to deliver a clear snapshot of what the coronavirus situation looks like now and what it could look like in the future.


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