Help Wanted: North Carolina’s Tight Labor Market

Tuesday, August 7, 2018
Author: 
Andrew Berger-Gross

North Carolina has a tight labor market, which is creating opportunities for jobseekers but challenging employers who are looking to hire. This article uses LEAD’s North Carolina Labor Supply/Demand data to show how the labor market has tightened across our state’s various regions and occupational groups.1

The North Carolina Labor Supply/Demand data provides estimates of the number of jobseekers (labor supply) and job openings (labor demand) in North Carolina and its regions. These data can help researchers track the tightness of our state’s labor market.

When we say that North Carolina currently has a “tight” labor market, we mean that the state has relatively few jobseekers per job opening. In other words, there is relatively little labor supply compared to the amount of labor demand. On average, there were nearly 400,000 jobseekers and nearly 160,000 job openings in 2017—a “supply/demand rate” of 2.5 jobseekers per job opening.

NC has 400 thousand job seekers and 160 thousand job openings

This is the tightest our state’s labor market has been in at least 10 years. Jobseekers struggled to find work during the Great Recession, when there were 10.3 jobseekers per job opening, but employers benefited from a large pool of applicants during this period. Labor market conditions in 2017 were much more favorable to workers and challenging for employers; the labor market is now tighter than it was in 2007, prior to the recession.

There are only 2.5 jobseekers per job opening in NC

Every region in the state—from the mountains to the sea and everywhere in between—has a tighter labor market than we’ve seen in at least 10 years.2 But some regions are tighter than others. For example, the Northeast region—which includes Elizabeth City and Greenville—had a supply/demand rate of 4.4 in 2017, much tighter than the 14.8 experienced during the recession and even tighter than the 6.4 seen in 2007. However, the Southwest region—which includes Charlotte—was persistently tighter than the Northeast region throughout this period, and had only 2.0 jobseekers per job opening in 2017.

Help wanted in all regions of NC

Most of the occupational labor markets in our state have also tightened.3 But some occupations are persistently more “in-demand” than others. For example, the market for Production Occupations—which are typically found among manufacturers—is over 10 times tighter than it was during the Great Recession, and nearly twice as tight as prior to the recession. However, the market for Healthcare Practitioner and Technical Occupations—which includes Nurse Practitioners, Physicians, Pharmacists, and others—was much tighter than for Production Occupations in 2017, with only 0.6 jobseekers per job opening versus 3.3. These healthcare jobs remained in-demand even during the height of the recession, and the market for these jobs in 2017 was twice as tight as prior to the recession, reflecting the “recession-resistant” nature of the healthcare industry.

Help wanted in all occupations

Is a tight labor market a good thing? It depends on your perspective. Jobseekers land jobs faster and often see higher wages when the labor market is tight. However, employers take longer to fill job vacancies and often incur higher labor costs in a tight labor market.

The state’s workforce development system plays an important role in ensuring that jobseekers benefit from—and employers adapt to—a tight labor market. Job matching services and work-based learning programs can help employers find talent and fill job openings more efficiently. Skills training, vocational rehabilitation, and supportive services can provide jobseekers who face barriers to employment with the tools they need to compete in the labor market.

And throughout the workforce system, a focus on connecting jobseekers to opportunities in “in-demand” labor markets can benefit not only workers who find employment, but also employers who need talent to fuel the growth of their businesses.  The North Carolina Labor Supply/Demand data is LEAD’s latest addition to a suite of informational tools that can help jobseekers, employers, and workforce professionals navigate labor markets in our state.

General disclaimers:

Data sources cited in this article are derived from surveys and administrative records and are subject to sampling error and non-sampling error. Any mistakes in data management, analysis, or presentation are the author’s.


1  See here for a detailed explanation of our methodology.

2 In this article, we report regional data at the Prosperity Zone level.

3 In this article, we group occupations at the 2-digit Standard Occupational Classification (SOC) level.