George Will is again making misleading statements on economic issues because of his inability to get access to government data. In today's column he is touting the economic record of the North Carolina, which he attributes to the state's conservative policies.
He told readers:
"The state has added more than 200,000 jobs in three years. Unemployment has fallen from 10.4 percent in January 2011, then eighth-highest in the nation, to 6.2 percent, one of the largest improvements among the states in the past 13 quarters."
According to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the 200,000 job gain in North Carolina over the last three years amounts to an increase of 5.18 percent, that is a hair better than the nationwide average of 5.12 percent job growth over this period, but doesn't seem like the sort of thing on which to base a political campaign. Furthermore, the number of jobs in North Carolina is still a full percentage point below its pre-recession peak, while nationally the number of jobs is down by less than 0.1 percent from pre-recession levels.
This gap is worse when we take into account the southern premium. Like most southern states, North Carolina had been adding jobs more rapidly than the country as a whole. This is in large part due to the weather. (People prefer to live in warmer climates, especially in their retirement years.) In the years from 1990 to 2007, the number of jobs in North Carolina increased by 34.3 percent compared to 26.7 percent for the country as a whole. At best, the policies that Will is celebrating has brought job growth in North Carolina even to the pace in the country as a whole.
The sharp drop in North Carolina's unemployment rate has all been in the last year. Its unemployment rate in the first four months of 2013 averaged 8.6 percent, well above the national average. This drop was the result of a reduction in the length of unemployment benefits, as well as making it more difficult to qualify for benefits. The result was that many people dropped out of the labor force. People who are getting benefits have to look for jobs, they often give up looking when their benefits expire.
From the first four months of 2013 to the first four months of 2014 the size of the national labor force increased by 0.2 percent. (Benefit duration was shortened for the country as a whole, but not by as much as in North Carolina.) The size of the workforce shrank in North Carolina over this period by 1.1 percent, the equivalent of 1.7 million people leaving the workforce nationally. It is not clear that this is something over which politicians would want to boast.