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N.C. Opinions: Greensboro

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Employment spin in N.C.

From an editorial Thursday in the (Greensboro) News & Record:

After North Carolina cut unemployment benefits last summer, people went out and got jobs.

That’s the compelling story line Republicans are spreading to explain one reason for the state’s rapidly falling unemployment rate. It was 8.9 percent in July, when extended benefits ended and weekly payments decreased, and it declined steadily to 7.4 percent in November.

“Give people incentives to stay home, many will stay home. Give them incentives to work, and many more will work,” Jim Tynan wrote last week for the conservative journal Civitas Review Online.

Is it that simple? Can North Carolina, and the entire country, turn the economy around by cutting off unemployment benefits? As Congress considers extending long-term unemployment benefits, with Democratic Sen. Kay Hagan of North Carolina playing a key role, should it expect more people to quit working if they can collect unemployment checks?

Such an explanation requires the belief that all it takes to find a job is to look for one. Have these jobs really been available all the time, just waiting for shirkers to finally get off the dole? No. Jobs have been scarce, and the so-called economic recovery is creating them at a slow pace.

While more people are working, a much greater number have left the workforce. UNCG economist Andrew Brod noted recently that if the state’s labor force had been as large in November as it was in January, the most recent unemployment rate would have been 9.5 percent instead of 7.4 percent.

The trouble with these numbers is that they don’t explain much. Are thousands of North Carolinians moving straight from the unemployment rolls to jobs because their benefits were cut? Given the lack of direct evidence, anyone can assert his or her own opinion.

This much is certain: Most people who are out of work, and out of unemployment benefits, still need help. And the bottom line for North Carolina’s economy is jobs. The number is slowly increasing, but the percentage of the state’s population that is employed hasn’t improved.

It is clear that too many people are still stuck in the slow lane – or thrown to the side of the road.

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