Economic downturn hits N.C.

The global economic crisis has struck indiscriminately at North Carolina's most resilient industries, bringing layoffs to companies in building supplies, semiconductors, pharmaceuticals, textiles, direct mailings and computers.

In the past few weeks alone, the roiling economy has taken out several thousand jobs in the state as businesses reduce production and close facilities.

Statewide joblessness of 7 percent is at a six-year high and climbing. There were 54,000 fewer people employed in September than a year ago at the same time. For each worker who loses a paycheck, less cash gets pumped back into the system.

The worst of the storm could take about six months to pass, but the effects may be felt well into 2010, experts say. Economists predict the downturn could leave more than 8 percent of the state's workers without jobs, a level not seen in a quarter century.

Though the country is not officially in recession until the experts say so, local economists are using the word without hesitation, saying it sneaked up gradually but now is hitting with full force. Because its arrival lagged in this state and because real estate values here never overheated and didn't crash, some had hoped we might be spared the worst.

"It's here," said Harry Davis, an Appalachian State University economist. "We've got to admit it. It's in the room."

The crisis is the outcome of a real-estate bubble that artificially inflated home prices, sucked up investments, dragged down Wall Street financial institutions, froze credit markets and sent world stock markets into a tailspin.

As bad as things are, the Triangle is still comparatively stable, with a bedrock of reliable jobs in health care, government and universities. But tighter budgets could weaken even those pillars -- Wake County is under a hiring freeze, for example, and the state is facing a huge shortfall because of declining tax revenue.

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