Katelyn Buffett: Carolina, please come back

Published 12:00 am Thursday, April 23, 2015

By Katelyn Buffett

Special to the Post

“I’m proud to report the State of North Carolina has come back even stronger. Its people are resilient, and our future is bright. Our unemployment rate, which was the fifth highest in the nation just two years ago, has dropped substantially—the second sharpest drop in the United States.”

These were the sentiments expressed by Governor Pat McCrory during his 2015 State of the State Address regarding what he claimed to be a “Carolina Comeback”: the imminent economic recovery of North Carolina. If this comeback truly exists, millions of lower and middle class North Carolinians are certainly not reaping its benefits.

According to the March 2015 North Carolina Budget and Tax Center, many North Carolina communities are still trapped in a recession. Seven years removed from the 2008 recession, the state has fallen below the national average for employment.  Additionally, North Carolina paychecks are not adjusting to inflation and employment in the many industries typically associated with middle-class North Carolina workers, such as manufacturing and construction, has steeply declined.

Most of the new jobs created within the state are extremely low-wage and have clustered around the metropolitan areas, leaving huge areas of rural North Carolina with no job growth. Unemployment exists at an all-time high: over 40 percent of working-age North Carolinians do not currently hold a job.

The brief also reveals that North Carolinians’ incomes have actually slightly declined since the recession and yearly salaries have remained stagnant. The three industries that have seen the biggest increase in jobs (accommodation and food services, administrative and waste services, and health care and social assistance) still pay less than North Carolina’s average.

Adjusting for inflation, the state’s hourly wage has actually gone down approximately 40 cents since the crash.

Furthermore, McCrory’s claim that the unemployment rate has significantly decreased recently also is not entirely correct.  Although the rate has decreased since the recession in 2008, the level of employment has yet to return to the level it once was prior to the crash.

These findings paint an entirely different image of the North Carolina economy — one that is far more grim — than the one concocted by McCrory. The creation of jobs will not lead to long-term economic prosperity for the hard-working people of North Carolina if they only pay poverty-level wages. As median home income decreases, so does the credibility of McCrory’s “Carolina Comeback.”

In his State of the State address, McCrory was not hesitant to claim that the state was undergoing an economic recovery. Until this recovery reaches the middle class, this “Carolina Comeback” is nothing more than a tagline.

Katelyn Buffett of Salisbury is a student at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.