North Carolina has now borrowed $2.5 billion for aid to the unemployed. Business leaders said the new taxes that would be required to pay down that debt would be so high that they would become a determinant to job creation.
“If we did not fix the system it would take until 2019 pay the debt, and the taxes would keep incrementally keep compounding,” said Lew Ebert, president of the North Carolina Chamber of Commerce. “This is the number one economic development cloud hanging over the state.”
With the new law, Ebert added, “companies would know what the cost of business is. Also, companies that move here would know they would not have to pay off a debt that they did not help create.”
At the same time, the new law would require about 30,000 businesses to pay unemployment insurance taxes that they don’t currecntly make.
Often cited as a paragon of the New South with its high-tech Research Triangle near Raleigh and the nation’s second-largest banking hub centered in Charlotte, North Carolina was especially hard hit by the recession.
Nearly four years into the recovery, the unemployment rate is the fifth highest in the nation. Ebert said that some business owners grumble that the state’s jobless benefits are too generous and are a disincentive for people to return to work.
“Everywhere I travel, there are companies that have jobs and want to hire,” he said. “But I hear two things: people don’t have the skills, or that it is tough to compete with $500 plus per week in benefits.”
Advocates for the jobless point out that although the maximum benefit is $535 per week, the average jobless worker in the state receives $296 a week — a figure that will plummet to closer to $200 a week under the new law.
“This is a huge hit for people,” said Bill Rowe, general counsel and director of advocacy for the North Carolina Justice Center, which has lobbied against the unemployment insurance changes. “Thousands of people are going to go from receiving an unemployment check to zero. You can only imagine the problems that will cause.”