With NC's economy, like many states, gutted by the coronavirus, Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden is rolling out a $2 trillion jobs plan. (Image via Shutterstock) Joe Biden
With NC's economy, like many states, gutted by the coronavirus, Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden is rolling out a $2 trillion jobs plan. (Image via Shutterstock)

With almost 1.2 million North Carolinians having filed for unemployment since March, economists say pressure is on state and federal leaders to bring relief.

As unemployment claims surge in North Carolina, presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden has announced a $2 trillion plan that he says will create millions of jobs while also ensuring environmental justice and addressing climate change. 

”When Donald Trump thinks about climate change, the only word he can muster is ‘hoax,’” said the former vice president. “When I think about climate change, the word I think of is ‘jobs.’” 

For NC economic experts, candidate job plans have merit, but communities statewide have an urgent need for government leaders to take action now. 

John Quinterno, an economist and principal with South by North Strategies, Ltd. — a research firm specializing in economic and social policy based in Chapel Hill — says the government’s focus should be on the current economic crisis residents are dealing with today. 

“The bottom line is we’ve got a serious crisis now. And whatever plans that any candidates for elected office might be offering might be worthwhile in their own right. But if you’re an unemployed person in Charlotte or Raleigh or Asheville or eastern North Carolina, you can’t wait until Joe Biden gets elected,” Quinterno told Cardinal & Pine.

According to the latest data, the NC unemployment rate has increased 4% during the pandemic, and the percentage of NC residents who are working has decreased by 6%. 

Since March 15th, almost 1.2 million North Carolinians have filed over 1.9 million unemployment claims. The daily average of claims filed in the last week was over 11,000, with some people who did not meet eligibility criteria for having insufficient wage history, earning “excessive” wages, or not filing a weekly certification of benefits, being required to file a second claim. 

Only 69% of North Carolinians that applied for unemployment benefits since being laid off have been approved, with 808,044 paid as of July 16th, according to the Division of Employment Security. 

Biden’s proposal includes efforts to increase the use of clean energy in the transportation, electricity, housing, and building sectors. His campaign asserts that the new jobs will “create pathways for young people and for older workers shifting to new professions, and for people from all backgrounds and all communities.” 

Biden also announced in his “Build Back Better” plan that he would roll out a package to make child care and elder care more affordable for working parents, especially women, and simultaneously create more jobs and increase the pay and benefits for caregivers and educators.

The Pew Research Center reports that as of May, Hispanic women have experienced the steepest decline in employment (-21%), and one-quarter of young adults ages 16-24 workers lost jobs from February to May. Some of the industries hit hardest by COVID-19, such as hospitality, restaurants, leisure, and education, are also more likely to employ women. According to the latest available data, 53% of NC unemployment claims were filed by women.

The former vice president also seeks to empower workers to form unions and bargain collectively with their employers. The effort, according to Biden, will “rebuild the middle class and a more sustainable future.” 

For now, economy experts are calling for federal and state governments to bring relief urgently. 

“We’re headed for even more economic harm if Congress doesn’t extend supplementary unemployment insurance benefits before they run out at the end of this month,” said Alexandra Sirota, director with the NC Justice Center’s Budget & Tax Center, in a press statement. 

In late March, Congress passed the CARES Act, which expanded unemployment benefits by an additional $600 a week in federal funds to supplement what each state already provided. This provision expires July 31st.  

Sirota went on to say, “North Carolina can’t afford the loss of this federal boost because the General Assembly has thus far failed to fix the meager state benefits.”