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North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper, a Democrat, speaks to reporters during a press conference in Raleigh on May 12, 2020. North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper, a Democrat, speaks to reporters during a press conference in Raleigh on May 12, 2020.

North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper, a Democrat, speaks to reporters during a press conference in Raleigh on May 12, 2020.

Paul Specht
By Paul Specht August 20, 2021

How do COVID-19 deaths, job losses in NC compare to other states?

If Your Time is short

  • Cooper referenced a study from April showing NC hasone of only a few states with COVID-19 death and job loss rates both below the national average.
  • The day Cooper spoke, CDC data showed North Carolina having the 12th-lowest death rate in the country.
  • North Carolina's unemployment rate isn't among the best, but a study found NC lost fewer jobs during the pandemic than all but five other states.

Gov. Roy Cooper says that, compared to other states, North Carolina has done an exceptional job of preventing job losses and COVID-19 deaths during the pandemic.

His comments came during an Aug. 4 press conference after a state official offered an update on North Carolina’s rental assistance program.

"Thanks to you and your team for the hard work," he said. "Several months ago, an analysis showed that in states across the country, North Carolina during this pandemic had among the lowest COVID-related deaths, as well as job losses per capita."

"In a difficult year and amid too much pain, saving lives and jobs has been a point of pride for our state. It shows we follow the science to protect people’s lives without losing sight of their livelihoods."

Cooper was referring to an analysis by the research firm Hamilton Place Strategies, according to spokesman Ford Porter.

The study, published in April, examined statistics from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the U.S. Department of Labor to compare job losses and COVID-19 deaths in each state. 

A chart accompanying the study shows North Carolina as one of only a few states where both death and job loss rates were well below the national average, though by the time Cooper spoke in August, those stats were a little outdated. 

We wondered: How do North Carolina’s COVID-19 death and job loss numbers compare to other states as of August?

It turns out that North Carolina’s numbers are still relatively low. 

COVID deaths

Data compiled by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control shows the number of deaths in each state, as well as the rate of death per 100,000 people.

To see what the data looked like on the day of Cooper’s press conference, we used the "Wayback Machine" at Archive.org

On Aug. 4, the CDC’s most recent data was from Aug. 3. Here’s what it showed.

Death rate: North Carolina had a lower death rate than the national average, which was 184 deaths per 100,000 people on Aug. 3 and its rate of 130 deaths per 100,000 people ranked 12th-lowest in the country on that date. 

Only Idaho (123), Colorado (120), Nebraska (117), New Hampshire (102), Washington (80), Utah (76), Oregon (67), Maine (66), Alaska (52), Vermont (40) and Hawaii (37) had lower rates as of Aug. 3.

As of Aug. 19, North Carolina’s rate was 133 deaths per 100,000 people, still the 12th-lowest in the country.

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David Wohl, a physician who studies infectious diseases at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, says it makes sense to judge a state’s responsiveness by looking at deaths per capita. He said low rates are influenced by a multitude of factors, from access to care to the general health of the population.

"NC does have a robust healthcare infrastructure with many local medical facilities and major regional tertiary care centers," Wohl told PolitiFact NC in an email. 

"Testing for COVID-19 has been widely available, leading to potential earlier diagnosis. The state has been very active in administering monoclonal antibody treatment and I suspect we are doing better at this than many other states, possibly preventing progression to more serious disease."

Job losses

North Carolina’s unemployment rate is tracked by both the state’s commerce department and the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

North Carolina’s unemployment rate was 3.6% in February 2020, hit a pandemic high of 12.9% in April 2020, and fell to 4.4% in July. In July, 20 states had lower unemployment rates than North Carolina.

When Cooper spoke on Aug. 4, the latest unemployment data available was from June. At that time, 21 states had lower unemployment rates than North Carolina. 

But unemployment rates, which are based on household surveys, don’t alone provide a clear picture of each state’s employment level, says Michael Ettlinger, founding director of the University of New Hampshire’s Carsey School of Public Policy. 

"There are many otherwise employable people who want employment but who are not out actively looking for jobs because their industry hasn’t come back enough to make it worthwhile," Ettlinger said. "With variations among states in people starting to seek jobs, differences in the unemployment rate between states can be as much because of those variations as actual job creation."

Ettlinger and Jordan Hensley, a policy analyst in his department, recently published a study that examined how many jobs each state lost and recovered during the pandemic.

According to their study, North Carolina lost 2.7% of its jobs between February 2020 and June 2021, equal to about 124,000 positions. That percentage is tied for the 10th-lowest among the states, Ettlinger said. 

Unemployment data released just hours before this fact check reinforce the idea that North Carolina’s economy is recovering faster than other states. The latest data show that North Carolina lost only 1% of its jobs between last February and this July, the sixth-lowest percentage in the country.

A variety of factors might influence job gains, Ettlinger said. Weather, early COVID-19 rates, current COVID-19 rates, the type of businesses in each state, pre-existing employment trends, and "a certain degree of randomness" may all play a role in employment levels, he said.

Mike Walden, an economist at N.C. State University, says the state may have benefitted from its mix of industries.

"Sectors like technology, financial services, and education — particularly higher education — largely continued operating. Also, agriculture and agribusiness were deemed necessary and continued their work," Walden told PolitiFact NC in an email.
Cooper appointed Walden to a business group that met with him virtually every two weeks. He said Cooper and others in state government "worked with and listened to the business community for advice on managing both the economic and health issues of the pandemic."

Still, "if I was asked prior to the pandemic if NC would have performed so relatively well, I would not have necessarily predicted these very positive results," he said.

Our ruling

Cooper said "North Carolina during this pandemic had among the lowest COVID-related deaths, as well as job losses per capita."

North Carolina was 12th from the bottom among states in the coronavirus death rate, and an analysis by the University of New Hampshire shows that North Carolina’s job losses during the pandemic were the 10th lowest among the states. These are not the absolute lowest rates nationally, but both measures can reasonably be described as being relatively low.

We rate Cooper’s claim Mostly True.

Our Sources

Video of North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper’s press conference on Aug. 4, 2021.

Email exchange with Ford Porter, spokesman for Gov. Roy Cooper.

Report by Hamilton Place Insights, "50 States, 50 Pandemic Responses: An Analysis Of Jobs Lost And Lives Lost," published April 18, 2021.

Data compiled by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control shows the number of deaths in each state, as well as the rate of death per 100,000 people.

CDC data from Aug. 4, 2021 accessed through the "Wayback Machine" at Archive.org

Unemployment statistics from the North Carolina Department of Commerce.

Unemployment statistics from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Story by PolitiFact, "No, it isn’t clear that unemployment checks are the main reason jobs go unfilled," posted May 17, 2021.

Study by the University of New Hampshire, "COVID-19 Economic Crisis: By State," posted Aug. 20, 2021.

Email exchange with Michael Ettlinger, founding director of the University of New Hampshire’s Carsey School of Public Policy.

Email exchange with Mike Walden, William Neal Reynolds Distinguished Professor and Extension Economist at North Carolina State University.

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More by Paul Specht

How do COVID-19 deaths, job losses in NC compare to other states?

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