CHARLOTTE – North Carolina’s economy is nearly back to its pre-pandemic levels, and the worst effects of the recession attributed to the novel coronavirus pandemic are clearly behind us, said Dr. John Connaughton, professor of financial economics at the University of North Carolina Charlotte and the director of the UNC Charlotte Economic Forecast, in presenting the latest economic forecast virtually this afternoon.

“We’ll have more jobs by December 2021 than we had in December 2019,” said Connaughton.  “But the unemployment rate will be a little bit higher.”  He is forecasting a net increase of about 25,000 jobs in North Carolina between December 2019 and the end of December 2021, and for unemployment to be close to 5 percent in North Carolina by the end of the year.

There’s good news for North Carolina, when it comes to the state’s economy: of 14 super-sectors tracked by economists, five have completely recovered.  Another half, said Connaughton, are very close to where they were a year ago, and the final half, with the exception of the hospitality and leisure sector, are within a few percentage points of where they were in February 2020.

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Though North Carolina’s economy lost 615,800 jobs between February 2020 and April 2020, by the end of the year, the data Connaughton presented showed that the state’s economy was down 175,300 jobs, including losses in every sector except for transportation and warehousing, which actually saw an increase of 12.5% in employment sector-wide.

Leisure and hospitality jobs were down by about 17%, said Connaughton, but that sector only represents 2.6% of North Carolina’s GDP.  That means that though the sector may have a huge impact on jobs and employment, the sector won’t have a big impact on the state’s GDP. In other words, said Connaughton, “it’s easier to get GDP back with the sector struggling than to get the jobs back with that sector struggling.”

Economic enthusiasm returning: consumer confidence high

“Consumer confidence is really important,” said Connaughton.  “People are ready for this to be over.”

After months of low consumer confidence, the data from April is encouraging, noted Connaughton, coming in at 121.7.

“These are the levels that are close to the levels of enthusiasm in the economy we saw back in ’17 and ’18 when the economy was go-go,” said Connaughton.  “One of the best signs we’ve seen in the last year and a half.”

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“Consumers feel pretty comfortable that the worst is behind them,” he added, noting that North Carolina is still nowhere close to achieving herd immunity when it comes to the percentage of the population who is considered fully vaccinated.

North Carolina ranks 35th, with 35.2% of the population fully vaccinated.

“It has nothing to do with supply, if you want a vaccine, call a pharmacy, and you’ll be able to get one by tomorrow,” said Connaughton.  “We have plenty of shots.”

But while the state isn’t faring well on vaccination, its economy is faring well, compared to other states, as the economy ranks 12th in terms of its recovery from March 2020.

By the end of 2021, forecasted Connaughton, North Carolina’s unemployment rate will drop to around 5 percent, and the economy will have netted about 25,000 jobs compared to the end of 2019.