North Carolina’s economy fully returned to the employment level it enjoyed before the COVID-19 pandemic sent the world into an economic recession, state economists said Monday. The state’s economy recovered to pre-pandemic employment levels in July of 2021 and the GDP even earlier, and the state’s economy continues to grow despite concerns of inflation and high gas prices.
The state’s economy is expanding, with job growth being high relative to other states. Over the year, the labor force participation rate increased 0.5 percentage points, nonfarm jobs increased by 166,500, a 3.7 percent increase, and the unemployment rate fell by 1.6 percentage points.
“Our significant success increasing jobs during the pandemic shows North Carolinians are resilient and we need to focus on training workers and educating children to continue to grow our workforce,” Governor Roy Cooper said. “But right now, prices for gas and food are too high, and we have to find ways to make those costs more affordable while we keep bringing good-paying jobs to our state.”
The Macon County Economic Development Commission released the latest economic indicator report for the county and results showed the county’s economic health improved significantly at the end of 2021. The county not only ended 2021 with a lower unemployment rate than previous months, but the report also showed that at the beginning of 2022, retail sales spending for the first half of the fiscal year 2022 is over half of the entire previous fiscal year’s retail spending.
The Macon County Economic Commission 2021 Economic Indicator Update was compiled from federal, state, and local resources and features key metrics important to Macon County’s economy.
Despite the COVID19 Pandemic, retail spending in Macon County hit a high in 2021 with $723,867,297 from July 2020-June 2021. Comparing Fiscal Year (FY) 2019 to FY 2020, retail spending increased from 2019 to 2020 in every month with the exception of two months. Retail spending continued to increase month after month for FY 2021 and to date in FY 2022 compared to previous months. So far for the fiscal year, 2022 retail sales in Macon totaled over $451 million dollars while the entire previous year was over $723 million.
A travel indicator for Macon County, the amount of occupancy tax collections was also reported as well above the previous year. For Highlands, $1,465,539.18 was collected in FY 21 for occupancy taxes, which is around $500,000 more than FY 20 and close to double the amount collected in FY 19. The same percentage of increase was replicated in Franklin, which collected $476,111.51 in FY 21, $302,678.39 in FY 20, and $226,428.51 in FY 19. Nantahala’s occupancy tax collection more than doubled from FY 19 ($66,527.59 to a record high of $197,262.07 in FY 21.
The Economic Indicator shows a significant increase in building permits issued in Macon County with 129 residential permits being issued in FY 20 and 147 issued in FY 21. Commercial permits also experienced an increase during the same time period. Not only were more new homes being built, but the cost of homes also experienced an increase with an average price of jumping for 213 thousand dollars in 2020 for a home to 267 thousand dollars in 2021. Highlands prices went from 741 thousand dollars to 841 thousand dollars.
The statewide data shows economic recovery but also places that need work. North Carolina’s unemployment rate fell by 0.2 percent from December to January, ranking 6th in over-the-month change. The state unemployment rate is in the middle nationally at 25th as is its over-the-year change from January 2021. The labor force participation rate improved but the state is ranked 38th nationally. However, the state ranks 9th nationally in the number of total nonfarm jobs.
The labor market, or number of people seeking jobs, continues to be tight in North Carolina. For example, December figures show the state had only 0.8 job seekers per job opening, according to the NC Department of Commerce.
Annual state-level data revisions are published by the US Bureau of Labor Statistics in March. Revised data for 2021 show that the state economy is expanding after recovering to pre-pandemic total nonfarm employment last summer. The state’s unemployment rate reached a high of 14.2 percent at the start of the pandemic in April 2020.