Thom Tillis, the North Carolina Republican seeking to unseat Democratic Sen. Kay Hagan, said during a recent debate that the Tar Heel State has come a long way since the onset of the great recession.
"We came from far behind," Tillis said. "Fourth-highest unemployment rate when I came in, now we're near the national average."
We wondered: Is North Carolina now "near the national average" for unemployment?
As it turns out, things have improved in the state, but they haven’t improved as much as Tillis suggested.
We looked at data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the government’s official source of employment data. We found that for the most recent available month -- August 2014 -- North Carolina had an unemployment rate of 6.8 percent.
That’s much lower than it was in January 2011, when Tillis assumed the office of state House speaker -- it was 10.4 percent. That’s a decline of just over one-third its previous level. (We’re not saying he gets all the credit for that drop -- simply that it happened during his tenure.)
But despite this significant improvement in the North Carolina unemployment rate, it’s an exaggeration to say North Carolina is "near the national average."
North Carolina’s August rate of 6.8 percent is 0.7 percentage points higher than the nation as a whole during August, and 0.9 points higher than the nation for September. (BLS releases national numbers before state-by-state numbers.)
It’s a stretch to say it’s "near" the national average. By way of comparison, it took the nation nine months this year to drop its unemployment rate by 0.7 points, and it took North Carolina 11 months to shed 0.7 points to its current level. So a difference of 0.7 percentage points is a lot of ground to make up.
Looking at North Carolina’s ranking among states provides further detail, but the result is not much more favorable to the accuracy of Tillis’ claim. In the state-by-state rankings for August, North Carolina is tied with Alaska for the 38th-best unemployment rate in the nation. That means it’s in the weakest one-quarter of states, not somewhere around half.
Tillis said that in North Carolina, "now we're near the national average" for unemployment. He has a point that the state has dropped its unemployment rate significantly in the past few years, but he exaggerates about how close the state is to the national average. In reality, North Carolina’s unemployment rate ranks it in the lowest one-quarter of states. We rate the claim Half True.