Pain and gain
Gutted unemployment benefits sent the idled scurrying for work and bolstered the rank of low-
paying companies on our listing of largest private employers.
By Vikki Broughton Hodges
In July, Republican lawmakers overhauled North Carolina’s unemployment-insurance program, reducing the maximum payout and cutting the length of time the out-of-work receive benefits. It was done to lower the state’s debt to the federal government of $2.8 billion, which it had accrued paying unemployment benefits during the Great Recession. But it also has made a dent in the state’s unemployment rate, says Mark Vitner, a Charlotte-based economist at Wells Fargo & Co. “We’re fairly optimistic about 2014 because we’ve had a pretty strong end to 2013,” he says, noting November’s seasonally unadjusted unemployment rate — 7.4% — is 2 percentage points lower than 12 months earlier. That decline has been more pronounced since July, when the unemployment-insurance revamp likely drove some jobseekers to low-paying jobs, such as those in retail or service.
Business North Carolina’s annual ranking of the 100 largest private-sector employers in the state supports Vitner’s theory. Grocery stores, retailers and restaurants saw a surge in workers last year. Brussels-based Delhaize Group, which owns Salisbury-based Food Lion Inc. and other grocery chains, almost made it to the No. 2 spot after adding more than 1,300. Asheville-based Ingles Markets Inc. gained 886, and Matthews-based Harris Teeter Supermarkets Inc. hired 710.
Vitner thinks the unemployment rate’s decline will slow in 2014, but it could dip to 6.5% to 7%. One industry that probably won’t help the unemployed much is health care. The economist expects it to post modest employment gains this year because of slowing revenue growth combined with the cost of implementing electronic medical records, efforts to boost productivity and health-system consolidation. Duke University — which includes the school and its health-care system — lost more than 10,000 jobs in 2013 but still clings to the No. 2 spot on the list.