Here's why thousands of North Carolina employees still are not working

RALEIGH, N.C. (WTVD) -- Nearly two years into the COVID-19 pandemic, people's ability to work is still being impacted.

More than 107 million American adults are estimated to not be employed, according to data from the U.S. Census Household Pulse Survey reported earlier this month.

In North Carolina, the unemployment rate has been declining since reaching highs throughout the pandemic.

The state has a 3.7% unemployment rate as of December, but workers continue to report the pandemic is impacting their employment.

The survey from the U.S. Census Bureau estimated around 39% of North Carolinians indicated retirement as their reason for not working.

One out of 10 unemployed North Carolinians said they weren't working because of COVID-19 symptoms.

Around 4% reported the reason was due to COVID impacting their place of work, either forcing it to close or lay off employees.Three percent remained concerned about the spread of the virus at work.

Other top reasons included not wanting to be employed, being sick with COVID-19 or caring for someone with COVID-19.

The Census survey estimated around 183,000 North Carolina employees were not working because they were caring for children, not in school or daycare.

Women have been disproportionality impacted throughout the pandemic.

Megan Eilenberger works with Dress for Success Triangle and said women want to work but are taking time to find the right opportunities that will be flexible with their needs.

"The pandemic plays huge burdens on women on their responsibilities and they really are taking a hard look at really redefining their work-life balance and what their careers mean to them," she said.

Dress for Success Triangle helps prepare and connect women for various jobs in the workforce.

"The women want and need the flexibility, autonomy and control and that's what they were looking for and expressing to employers," she said. "I think from the employer side, we're hearing that employers are really willing to listen to what employees want and work with them to find something that's mutually beneficial to both parties."

Barbara Brothers works at the Capital Area Workforce Development and helps employers find the right employees. She said since employees really have the power right now, workplaces are needing to increase wages and get creative to find the right candidates.

"There are untapped labor populations that we're also working with, and certainly encouraging employers to have some will if they're able to base on their business, to embrace to help expand their applicant pools," she said.

She said some part of the problem is a mismatch between the skills available workers have and the skills employers are seeking.

"That's where we get into is, what skill set do they have and what kind of opportunities are there for them to work remotely from home? So that becomes you know, the trying to find that great match between what's available," she explained.

Ryan Ray is the CEO and President of Jobs for Life. His nationwide organization trains employees who often face barriers to employment. He said while his team is continuing to train job seekers, he encourages employers to become flexible.

"How can we give people a second chance, another opportunity? It's almost not a choice now. We're almost being forced to have to. The playing field has been leveled. And so we're hoping that we can continue to equip individuals to be able to go out and add value in these workplaces. But we're challenging employers to begin to lower some of those barriers," Ray said.

Jobs for Life switched their training to virtual once the pandemic hit and Ray said they saw a huge uptick in individuals going through their training.

Ray said going forward he predicts these challenges will stick around so both employers and employees will have to be innovative and flexible.
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