Craven County’s unemployment rates are lower than they were before the pandemic, belying the region’s high job vacancy rates.
With nearly a third of the county’s total population set to retire soon, that could spell trouble – due to Craven’s growing list of job openings, but not enough people to fill those positions.
“There are still more jobs than there are people to fill them,” said Phil Prescott, business services representative for the Eastern Carolina Workforce Development Board. “It’s not that people aren’t going back to work. It’s just that we don’t have as many people to work with.”
In April, there were 45,100 salaried jobs available in Craven County, down slightly from pre-pandemic numbers with 45,200 in April 2019, according to data from the North Carolina Department of Commerce.
Data shows that 41,132 people are able to work locally in April 2022, an increase from April 2019 with 40,842 people in the labor force.
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Of those eligible to work, 39,787 people were employed in April 2022, about 425 more than in 2019, according to state data. That leaves the latest 2022 unemployment rate for Craven County at 3.3%, lower than pre-pandemic levels of 3.6% in 2019.
Prescott said population growth in Craven County has not increased in the same direction as job growth due to more people retiring. This affects these numbers and leaves employers in dire need of staff.
An aging workforce
More and more people able to work in Craven County are not showing up for the jobs they applied for due to being picky about their work hours, Prescott said. Today, more people are approaching retirement than are able to replace them.
“So we’re losing population to retirement, and we’re not replacing it with younger people,” he said.
As of December 2021, about 33,480 people are expected to retire soon in Craven County, according to data from the Workforce Development Board. About 19,257 of the county’s population are millennials, between the ages of 25 and 39.
Since 2019, the county’s population has grown from 102,031 to 100,488 in 2022, according to data from Eastern Carolina. Craven County’s population is expected to continue to decline by 1,871 through 2026.
An aging population for the current wide selection of jobs available in the county isn’t necessarily a bad thing, Prescott said. Although a large percentage of Craven’s workforce is nearing retirement, young people have an advantage in securing employment.
“The possibility of being hired now with less experience is great,” Prescott said. “In other words, if you’re a younger person with little or no experience, the opportunities are much greater now than they were four or five years ago because we don’t have manpower to fill the positions.”
As summer approaches, industries that rely on seasonal workers are still facing shortages, he said. Some local businesses have already had to reduce their opening hours due to a lack of staff.
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“Companies will tell you that they’re struggling, and they are, finding people to fill these positions,” Prescott said.
College graduates have an advantage
Data from the Workforce Development Board shows that just over 20% of jobs require a bachelor’s degree in Craven County. A little less than 20% of people have acquired this level of diploma in the region.
About 10% of jobs require an associate’s degree or graduate degree. Craven County’s population is just under 10% at each of these education levels, according to workforce data.
“Recent college graduates probably have the best opportunities to go to work than they’ve had in quite some time,” Prescott said. “There are more jobs posted that require a bachelor’s degree than we have a population at the bachelor’s level.”
He said there has never been a better time for individuals to find work and get jobs. It’s also a great opportunity for employers to search for people who are ready to work.
“I think the most important thing is that it’s not all dark and catastrophic,” Prescott said. “There’s an opportunity here if you’re willing to seek it out, and it’s also an opportunity for companies to take a look at their recruitment and retention efforts.”
Reporter Symone Graham covers local public safety for the Sun Journal. Do you have any advice or story ideas? Send it to him at firstname.lastname@example.org.