An executive order issued by Gov. Roy Cooper on Friday, May 21, requires recipients of unemployment benefits to prove they are searching for work to continue receiving benefits. The move makes North Carolina part of a growing number of states to reimplement the work-search requirement.
The order, which kicks into effect June 6, requires all claimants on unemployment to register a jobseeker account on NCWorks.gov.
“Unemployment benefits have provided a critical lifeline for many North Carolinians living on the edge due to the pandemic,” said Cooper, a Democrat, in a statement. “As our state emerges from the pandemic, we want to help people safely return to work as soon as possible. Reinstating the work search guidelines will help connect claimants with employers, resources and tools to help them return to the workforce.”
Cooper’s executive order comes on the heels of renewed calls from Republicans in the General Assembly to once again tie work-search requirements to unemployment benefits. A letter signed by 63 members of the N.C. House and sent to Cooper on Friday suggested that continuing in the status quo was contributing to employers’ struggle to find workers.
“The North Carolina Restaurant and Lodging Association (NCRLA) reports that restaurants in North Carolina are down about 70,000 workers — roughly 17% of the industry’s workforce — compared to before the pandemic,” the letter stated. “Furthermore, there are 250,000 people in North Carolina currently receiving unemployment benefits each week, according to the Department of Commerce. Yet, North Carolina’s workforce system, NCWorks, lists over 200,000 current job openings in the state, and this does not include every opening since not all employers utilize the system.”
Republicans have also floated the idea of using federal COVID-19 emergency relief funds to pay workers $1,500 signing bonus to get a job. A spokesperson for Cooper said the governor was open to that idea, the News & Observer reported.
Also on Friday, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics released new unemployment numbers from April for individual states. Earlier this month, the BLS released April’s U.S. unemployment rate for the U.S. as a whole, and it came in well below expectations at an increase of 266,000 nonfarm payrolls. This has caused the unemployment rate to tick up to 6.1% from 6%. In North Carolina, April’s unemployment number was a more modest 5%, an improvement from 5.2% in March.
“April’s decrease in unemployment is an encouraging sign for North Carolina’s economy,” said Brian Balfour, senior vice president of research at the John Locke Foundation. “As the lockdown’s are lifted, more people are able to get back to work.”