Established in 1935, the North Carolina State Employment Service (ES) provides publicly-funded labor exchange services to all interested workers—both those with and without jobs—and to all interested firms in North Carolina. Services are delivered remotely and through a network of 90 local offices. Besides providing labor exchange services, the ES, a division of the Employment Security Commission of North Carolina (ESC), manages unemployment insurance claims at the local level, administers the "work test" required of insurance claimants, and serves as a mandated partner in the state's network of JobLink Career Centers, 63 percent of which are housed in ES offices. This study explores the role of the local offices of the ES in rural communities during the Great Recession (2007-2010). Attention centers on the argument, as advanced by state policymakers, that local ES offices ensure equal access to workforce investment services in rural communities. To that end, the study breaks down the argument into six distinct hypotheses and examines them quantitatively and qualitatively. The hypotheses are that:
- rural residents, particularly the rural unemployed, are a "hard-to-serve" population;
- most individuals establish ties to the public workforce investment system through the ES;
- compared to their urban counterparts, rural residents prefer in-person services;
- because rural residents prefer in-person services, the existence of local offices boosts enrollment rates in related public workforce programs relative to those in metro areas;
- rural residents who use local ES offices develop deeper ties to the public workforce investment system; and
- local ES offices compensate for the "thin" workforce networks in many communities.
Specifically, the project documents the evolution of North Carolina's service model, analyzes administrative data pertaining to service usage, and solicits stakeholder perspectives through semi-structured interviews. The study concludes by offering program recommendations and suggesting avenues for future inquiry. In particular, the ES and ESC might consider reexamining the current arrangement of the local office network and whether it is currently over-represented in rural areas. Further, the ES and ESC might consider adopting a regional approach to rural service delivery over a "one-size-fits-all" rural service strategy. Additional research into state-level differences in the organization of labor exchange services could help address programmatic gaps that have troubled the workforce investment system for some time.
Other reports developed for the 2009 ETA Research Papers Program include:
ETAOP 2012-11: Job Content and Skill Requirements in an Era of Accelerated Diffusion of Innovation: Modeling Skills at the Detailed Work Activity (DWA) Level for Operational Decision Support
ETAOP 2012-13: Green Jobs and Career Pathways: An Arranged Marriage in Service to a 21st-Century Workforce Development System