What pandemic? The long boom continues in Raleigh-Durham

Key takeaways

  • The Raleigh-Durham area has had a booming labor market for the better part of two decades and is still going strong.
  • An intensifying influx of workers has resulted in pay increases that are less steep than elsewhere across the nation.
  • With steady growth in manufacturing jobs, a coming rebound in economic activity could lead to spikes in labor demand.

The Raleigh-Durham metropolitan area is one of America's modern boom towns. It has been for decades, and the Covid-19 pandemic is starting to look like a speed bump on Raleigh-Durham's race into the economic future. Propelled by investments in technology, the area is growing steadily and making workers wealthier along the way. And it doesn't look like it'll be stopping anytime soon.

Rapid growth, except in pay

Since the mid-1990s, the Raleigh-Durham area has been growing much more rapidly than the nation as a whole. With only a few interruptions for recessions, the workforce has more than doubled in size in less than 30 years:

26 Jun 2023 RD tnf

The Covid-19 pandemic took a bite out of the labor market in Raleigh-Durham as it did everywhere else, but workers quickly filled in the gap. The trend in total employment may actually have moved up bit as a result of a one-time boost of in-migration.

Indeed, Raleigh became the No. 1 destination for people leaving big, pricey cities in the Northeast during this same period. And the influx of new workers has kept hourly pay from rising any more quickly than the national average, even in the midst of rapid growth in the labor market:

26 Jun 2023 RD ahe-1

In fact, hourly earnings in the Raleigh-Durham area have risen steadily – almost linearly – by roughly $1 per year since 2013. But this also means that percentage increases in pay have been steadily falling. Moreover, pay hasn't kept up with the inflation in consumer prices of roughly 20% in the region over the past three years.

One of the most important drivers of the boom in Raleigh-Durham has been high-tech manufacturing. The presence of two major research universities, Duke and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, along with a substantial blue-collar workforce, has drawn companies making everything from cars to pharmaceuticals.

After peaking in the 1970s, manufacturing employment across the country hit bottom after the Great Recession and finally began to rebound, with an expansion of about 12% since 2010. But it's been growing much more rapidly the Raleigh-Durham area:

26 Jun 2023 RD manuf

Start-ups are also springing up in droves, especially in information-related industries. Even after taking out telecommunications jobs, employment in these industries has grown by a quarter in the Raleigh-Durham area since the pandemic began:

26 Jun 2023 RD info

In recent months, job openings in tech have dipped steeply in the Raleigh-Durham area as the industry has retrenched. But manufacturing is still going strong and looks poised for even more activity in the second half of this year into 2024.

That's why we're expanding our operations in the Raleigh-Durham area, with tens of thousands of local workers already signed up on our platform. As the supply chain gets moving again, all those manufacturing businesses – and the local economy as a whole – will start to see new peaks in labor demand. They'll need flexible labor, and our Pros will be ready to help.

These links offer more information:

Bureau of Labor Statistics Economic Summary

Raleigh Area Workforce Demographics (City of Raleigh)

Labor Market Data & Tools (State of North Carolina)

Labor Market Data (NC Budget & Tax Center)

Realtime metrics

These metrics, derived from data aggregated across the Instawork platform, compare the two weeks starting 6/8/2023 to the previous two weeks. To control for the overall growth of the Instawork marketplace, only shifts involving businesses that booked shifts in both periods are included:

  • $0.02 rise in hourly pay
  • 1.8% point drop in share of short-notice shifts
  • 0.3 hours drop in hours per existing worker

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