This editorial originally appeared in the Greensboro News & Record.
North Carolina’s economic recovery has fallen short for most residents, a new report says.
A series of issue briefs, titled “Few Signs of a ‘Carolina Comeback,’ ” released by Raleigh-based nonprofit Think NC First, reads like a challenge to Republican Gov. Pat McCrory’s re-election year claims of achieving a roaring economic recovery.
Author John Quinterno of South by North Strategies in Chapel Hill says state economic policies probably have too little impact to assign the governor much credit or blame. In fact, North Carolina’s experience isn’t much different than what’s occurred at the national level.
While North Carolina’s unemployment rate is back where it was before the great recession began in 2008, many people have left the workforce. Job creation hasn’t kept pace with population growth. And the under-employment rate, counting people who work part time but would like to work full time, is higher, the report notes.
Furthermore, job growth has been stronger in industries that pay low wages. For example, employment in the state’s leisure and hospitality services sector is greater now than it was before the recession, while manufacturing and construction employment hasn’t fully rebounded.
Quinterno disputes assertions that the state has many high-wage, skilled jobs just waiting for qualified workers. “No empirical evidence” supports that contention, he said last week. If that were true, competition for workers would be pushing wages higher. It isn’t happening.
Per-capita income has topped 2008 levels, the report notes, but it would not have if it weren’t for increases in transfer payments, such as Social Security.
Poverty rates remain high, and the gap between richest and poorest continues to expand, with Greensboro-High Point ranking third among the state’s 15 largest metro areas in that measure. Tax cuts have mostly helped people at the highest income levels.
The state’s per-capita gross domestic product in 2015, adjusted for inflation, was lower than the 2008 figure, according to the report: “While the causes of the state’s sluggish rate of GDP growth are debatable, they are intertwined with the subpar labor market conditions — conditions that include a high rate of joblessness, a lower labor force participation rate, and an expansion in low-wage, low-skill jobs.”
Rosy rhetoric about “comebacks” that many North Carolinians don’t feel just “distracts from the problem that something is fundamentally different about this recovery,” Quinterno said. The labor market has changed, and many of the old jobs aren’t coming back.
Investments in education and infrastructure will help. Quinterno applauds efforts to prepare a megasite for a large industrial project in Randolph County as well as development of aviation-related sites at Piedmont Triad International Airport.
By and large, however, we’re not hearing enough from state and national leaders about how to build a stronger economic future.