Raleigh, N.C. — Gov. Pat McCrory spiked the economic football Friday, pointing to a dropping unemployment rate and a milestone number in North Carolina's job report.
"North Carolina has now recovered all of the jobs lost during the recession," McCrory said in a statement. "We will remain focused on long-term job creation because North Carolina will continue to attract people and businesses."
THE QUESTION: Has the state really "recovered all of the jobs lost during the recession."
THE NUMBERS: Spoiler alert – the governor is correct on the numbers, but some context is lacking.
McCrory's news release goes on to cite the following statistics: "In October, 4,183,900 people (nonfarm, seasonally adjusted) were employed in the state, which exceeds the pre-recession high of 4,174,500 in February 2008. North Carolina experienced 24 months of continuous employment decline until the number of people employed bottomed out at 3,839,200 in February 2013."
Regarding the numbers, McCrory correctly cites federal payroll survey data, which reflects the number of employees employers in the state say they have. The same became true a few months ago for employment as measured by a household survey, which asks people whether they are employed.
THE PESKY CONTEXT: While this may be a milestone moment for the state, economists say it's important to keep in mind which milestone.
"I'm imagining a marathon, and you've finally just crossed the starting line," said Tara Sinclair, an associate professor of economics at George Washington University and chief economist for job-search site Indeed.com.
North Carolina is lagging the nation on this particular economic recovery indicator. The U.S. economy as a whole surpassed its pre-recession job total in May.
The bigger question, Sinclair said, is what would the job total have been if it did not get stuck in a recessionary rut.
Without the recession, North Carolina would have created an additional 441,000 jobs beyond where the state is today, said John Quinterno, principal with South by North Strategies.
"The problem with that statistic is it doesn't account for any population change over the past seven years," Quinterno said of the payroll jobs number.
According to the census, North Carolina's population grew from 9.3 million in 2008 to 9.9 million in 2013. That means more people are competing for the same number of jobs, although presumably some of that population growth was driven by retirees and children who wouldn't be seeking employment.
A few other numbers help get at that population-to-employment ratio question. For example, as measured by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 56.5 percent of the state's population is employed today, compared with 61.8 percent in February 2008.
Put another way, North Carolina's unemployment rate fell to a seasonally adjusted 6.3 percent in October, far lower than the 11.3 percent high it hit in January 2010 but not quite back to the 5.1 percent it was hovering around in January-February 2008. Also, that number doesn't take into account people who would like to work but have given up looking for jobs.
At North Carolina's current pace of job creation, Quinterno said, it will take the state six years to create enough jobs so that the state will have truly caught up to its pre-recession pace.
"Over the first 10 months of the year, payroll employment in North Carolina expanded by 1.9 percent. The comparable rate in 2013 was 2 percent, and in 2012, the comparable rate was 1.6 percent. These rates are consistent with a sluggish recovery," Quinterno said.
THE CALL: McCrory has his numbers right by and large. While views may differ on how good that news actually might be, we give his statement a green light. It's certainly a good thing that the state has reached this milestone, but it will be a while before North Carolina reaches its pre-recession level of economic vigor.