RALEIGH – You may believe you work hard, but compared to the national average a new analysis shows North Carolina —the country’s ninth most populous state—ranks only 17th hardest working. WalletHub evaluated 10 metrics connected to work and the workforce.

“They put together an interesting array of metrics and weightings to come up with their rankings,” said Dr. Anne York, program director and professor of economics at Meredith College. “I don’t see any scientific validity for what they did, and I don’t think this would be accepted in an academic journal, but for the purposes of discussion, it is thought provoking.”

Criteria considered in the study include average hours worked per week, share of workers with multiple jobs and volunteer hours.

The state ranked 19th in criteria linked directly to work factors and 26th in criteria that are indirect.  The higher the overall score, the harder the work level, according to WalletHub.

The study shows North Carolina 12th in the total number of hours worked, on average, during a given work week at 39.2 hours, and 15th in the nation for annual volunteer hours and the average weekly hours spent enjoying leisure activities.

“This study is really capturing whether a state has a vibrant economy that creates a lot of job opportunities for its citizens,” said York.  “So at a rank of 17, it is showing that NC does have a strong economy compared to most other states.”

According to the data, which was shared with WRAL TechWire upon request, 4.7% of North Carolina workers hold down a second job, placing the state 35th in the nation in that category. The data lists the share of households where no adults are working at 27.67%, or 29th in the nation.

Nearly one-quarter of all North Carolina workers leave paid vacation leave unused, according to the dataset, though the average resident in the state enjoys an average of nearly five and a half hours of leisure time each day and volunteers 32.22 hours each year in their community.

“It does look like North Carolinians are able to still have a good work-life balance when we also ranked higher than most states in average leisure time spent per day and lower on the share of workers with multiple jobs and lower on the share of workers leaving vacation time unused,” said York.

The state is 25th for average commute time, even as WalletHub ranked Raleigh the easiest place to commute in another recent analysis. North Carolina is 27th in the nation for the current rate of “idle youth,” those ages 18-24 who are not working, at 12%, according to the data.

Adjusting and updating policies to spur more workforce participation in this category is one way for North Carolina to improve upon its production, engagement and economic output, said York.

“This is a group of people who should be willing and able to work or to continue their education but they are not doing that,” said York. “There could be a role for our state government to create more opportunities in our community college system with lower tuition and fees and a better curriculum that is more aligned with the needs of local businesses.”

“Perhaps high school curriculums could be revamped with more vocational education to help students go straight to employment after graduation,” added York. “These young people are a vital resource for our economy, and everything should be done to lower the percentage who are idle. The longer they stay idle, the more difficult it will be to have them join the labor market and contribute economically to our state over their lifetimes.”

Another troubling metric for the state, said York, is the measured engagement for employees at work.

“Ranking 31st on share of engaged workers is troubling,” said York. “The data shows only 32% of North Carolinians said they are “engaged” with their job. This metric is measuring the quality of our employment opportunities and perhaps quality of employers.”

To address this challenge, said York, “businesses should seek ways to improve working conditions, such as rotating tasks between workers to give more variety of tasks and more learning experiences.”

Direct work criteria measured included:

  • Average Workweek Hours
  • Employment Rate
  • Share of Households where No Adults Work
  • Share of Workers Leaving Vacation Time Unused
  • Share of Engaged Workers (This metric measures the share of employees who are “involved in, enthusiastic about and committed to their work and workplace,” as defined by Gallup.)
  • Idle Youth (18-24) Rate

Indirect work criteria as cited by WalletHub included:

  • Average Commute Time
  • Share of Workers with Multiple Jobs (This metric was calculated as share of employed population with multiple jobs among total employed population.)
  • Annual Volunteer Hours per Resident
  • Average Leisure Time Spent per Day

Alaska is ranked as the hardest working state followed by North Dakota, Nebraska, South Dakota, Texas, Wyoming, Oklahoma, Virginia, New Hampshire and Kansas.

“There are early indications that the pandemic is enhancing worker productivity since businesses are now investing more in capital and labor-saving technologies,” said York. “Telehealth medical appointments are one example for how a physician’s office can increase its productivity and how workers can be more productive in their jobs by taking less time off work for medical needs when they don’t have to travel to the doctor’s office.”

It’s still an open question in economics, noted York, about whether workers, on the whole, are more or less productive when working remotely.

“As we get past the pandemic, and businesses can take a better look at which jobs can be done more effectively by remote workers and which jobs need to be in the office, and workers are better able to sort themselves by their preferred work arrangement, then I think we will see both arrangements lead to workers overall being more productive,” said York. “The pandemic has caused business and workers to examine more closely how different work arrangements and better technology can improve work-life balance and productivity.”

Higher wages bringing more people back to work – but could mean more inflation

The talent and labor market is still growing in the state, especially in the Triangle, with help wanted signs popping up in a wide variety of industries, all across the state. According to the most recent NCSU Index of North Carolina Leading Economic Indicators, shared with WRAL TechWire, there was a 25.4% drop in initial jobless claims compared to the prior month, May 2021.

“The signs continue to point to an improving state economy,” Dr. Michael Walden told WRAL TechWire in an interview. “Except there’s one problem—economics cannot predict the future of the virus, and currently there are big worries about the surge of the Covid-19 variant.”

And, recently, expanded unemployment benefits ended, which may have an impact on the labor market, said York, though adding that this is an area of curiosity.

“Will businesses be able to more easily find workers now? Or are health concerns and childcare reasons holding people back from working for now? How high will wages go as businesses are seeking new workers?” said York.

York is also tracking the inflation rate, asking whether it is a temporary phenomenon from reopening the economy during the coronavirus pandemic recovery period or whether it will be more permanent, resulting in higher inflation for several more years.

Is another pandemic recession on the way? Economist: Next few weeks will tell