Diminishing Economic Prospects for Rural North Carolina

The numbers are in and the story they tell isn't pretty for the hundreds of thousands of men and women who have traditionally served as the backbone for North Carolina's workforce.

According to a recent assessment from the North Carolina Commission on Workforce Development the demand for "middle" jobs, those jobs that provide a family-sustaining wage without rquiring a formal education, has seen a serious reduction and job growth is concentrated in urban areas. The "State of the North Carolina Workforce" report does not assign blame, but does confirm what many of us already knew. It isn't a pretty picture for rural workers and the future isn't looking much brighter.

Please follow below the fold....

There are eight key trends that are outlined in the executive summary of the report. Over the next couple of weeks I will go through this report in detail. Today, I would simply like to highlight the key trends.

• Many of North Carolina’s traditional manufacturing industries continue to shed jobs as part of an on-going economic transition.

"On-going economic transition" sounds benign but refers to the outsourcing of America's jobs to cheaper foreign labor sources. The culprits are the numerous free trade agreements pushed by Bush and passed by the Republican Congress over the past several years. These free trade agreements have also been supported by many Democrats.

The election in November 2006 may have brought a new balance of power to this issue, but is it too late to undo the damage these free trade agreements have already caused to rural areas of North Carolina? What corrective action should be taken by national, state and local governments as well as chambers of commerce and local business leaders? Do we repeal free trade agreements or do we curtail passing future trade agreements until the damage is assessed and corrective action is taken?

• North Carolina’s traditional “middle jobs”—those that paid a family-sustaining wage and required minimal formal education or training—are disappearing as part of this transition.

Here is further proof, in black and white that there is a war on middle income earners. The current increases in minimum wage will not solve the problems caused by the loss of middle wage jobs. There is a big difference between a minimum wage and a living wage. Most official definitions of "living wage" I find put it at 120% to 130% of the federal poverty line for a family of four. With the poverty line around $19,000/year in North Carolina, that puts the living wage around $25,000 for a family of four. Just how far does a family of four go on $25,000/year? Will this pay medical bills, dental, vision, food, clothing, housing, savings or provide for a college education for the kids? How do we make sure our economic growth brings along as many minimum and living wage workers as possible?

• New job creation is concentrating in certain fast-growing metropolitan areas.

For those of us who live in these metropolitan areas this might seem like good news, but the growth in population that follows the growth in the job market is providing its own challenges in areas like transportation, housing and education. Of course, these issues are preferable to the alternative reality that many of our rural communities are facing.

• Many areas of North Carolina are not prospering from the economic transformation.

In the past election we heard quite a bit about some of the rural communities included in NC's 8th Congressional District. Some of these areas lose so much of their tax base after a major mill closing that it isn't just the workers but the town itself that suffers. What can we do in the immediate future to help these areas prepare to attract new business?

• The future prosperity of all North Carolinians depends on achieving higher educational attainment levels for all citizens.

The new jobs coming to North Carolina require a better educated workforce. While the education level attained for the average North Carolinian has increased over the past 15 years, we still trail the nation. This will have to change for North Carolina to continue to attract high-tech businesses and for these businesses to hire workers currently living in the state. How will our financially stressed rural workforce and those living at or below the poverty level afford to send their children to college so they can participate in the economic growth of North Carolina?

• Impending baby-boom retirements will exacerbate an emerging skills gap among experienced, skilled workers.

This tells us which age group a large concentration of our highly skilled workers is in. Will we have the workforce needed to sustain current and future economic growth in 10, 15, 20 years? How do we plan for this?

• High-skill in-migrants will help fill part, but not all, of this skills gap.

Currently, the United States is not very selective about the people allowed to migrate to the United States however highly skilled migrants account for a fairly high percentage of successful businesses. According to a study at Duke (via Contacto Magazine):

"Immigrant entrepreneurs founded 25.3 percent of the U.S. engineering and technology companies established in the past decade...... What's more, foreign nationals -- those living in the United States who are not citizens -- contributed to an estimated 24.2 percent of international patent applications in 2006."

What does this mean for the immigration process? Do we fast-track those with certain skills or advanced degrees? Do we worry about whether that's fair to the huddling masses?

• Low-skill in-migrants present both opportunities and challenges in meeting the state’s workforce needs.

If the middle income jobs are a thing of the past, will there be greater competition for the lower income jobs if we allow the current level of unskilled migrant workers to continue? What other stresses does that put on our economy? Does the good outweigh the bad? I'm not talking about what is humane or fair to those in our country illegally. What is the economic impact? What does it mean for the future economy of North Carolina? Can we meet the needs of our legal citizens if the current level of those here illegally remains constant or increases?

Obviously, I don't have all the answers, but I hope to interview the men and women who do. I have put together interview questions that I will email to as many elected officials and prospective elected officials as I can. I have already contacted a few and they seem eager to join in the conversation. I have been researching each of these trends and will address each in detail. Look for the first installment on free trade early next week.


Hate to post and run

But I have to do the mom carpool to dance thing for the youngest. I'll check back in later.

Robin Hayes lied. Nobody died, but thousands of folks lost their jobs.

Vote Democratic! The ass you save may be your own.


I cant concentrate long enough to read all of this right now. But I was thinking earlier today, HUD is a cabinent level position. Is there anything similar for rural areas? I know there is something small under the Department of Agriculture, but is that it?

Draft Brad Miller -- NC Sen ActBlue :::Petition

"Keep the Faith"

I'm on the laptop in the car

outside the dance studio. I just realized I forgot to link to the study. Will do so when I get home.

Believe it or not.....this is the short post. When I grow up I want to be like Kirk - Mr. bullet point. :)

Robin Hayes lied. Nobody died, but thousands of folks lost their jobs.

Vote Democratic! The ass you save may be your own.

economic transformation

I hate those two words used together. It makes it sound like it's a good thing when in fact it's a very bad thing for most of us.

The true 'transformation' is that America is no longer a producing nation but a consuming nation.

The only thing we've been exporting lately are jobs and war.

several parts of this study seem to do that

I think they are toeing that line between being objective and painting a pretty picture.

Robin Hayes lied. Nobody died, but thousands of folks lost their jobs.

Vote Democratic! The ass you save may be your own.

Ask the free-market fundamentalists about this

and they'll say, "tough tomatoes." They'll also say that planning and "social engineering" to stave of the collapse of communities is a waste of time and a waste of their tax dollars.

I see almost no evidence of any sustainable response to the challenges you've described. Indeed, much of government policy exacerbates the problems. There's lots of hand-wringing and lots of jumping through hoops to chase certain companies, but innovation and out-of-the-box thinking is largely non-existent, to my knowledge.

No answers from me, just observations.

Wow, this is what you've been working on?

There just aren't enough hours in a day to do all you do. Are you sure you're not twins? :P

No matter that patriotism is too often the refuge of scoundrels. Dissent, rebellion, and all-around hell-raising remain the true duty of patriots.

Progressive Discussions

Yeah....the research has been tedious

The free trade piece is a monster, so may have to break it down. I love the research, but don't seem to be able to part with any of it and my posts are much too long.

Will post your Sandhills open thread in the morning. Thanks for sendng it. :)

Robin Hayes lied. Nobody died, but thousands of folks lost their jobs.

Vote Democratic! The ass you save may be your own.

Does this report

count farmers as actual people performing a job? It seems to me that the farmer is just a nothing enterprise. Either your a mega farm, or just a mom-and-pop farm. One is a del monte feeding the population, one is some people that for some silly reason think they are doing some good growing some cucombers and tomatoes to sell at a road side stand (i get the impression that most politicians feel the later is the norm when it comes to farmers). (Im not a farmer as u can tell by my spellin of these fruits and veggies)

The local farmer is not counted as a business or job. They are just farmers. For the eastern part of this state, that is a serious problem. When we lose one farm, we have lost a job, but also a business. For a state that has alot of agriculture in it, the family farmer is not highly supported.

Anything that effects or removes or impedes the business of farming should seriously be evaluated and if the effect is not replacing that farm with jobs that will sustain a number of families, then that what ever cannot be allowed to happen. This state needs its farms and farmers. Or it needs to intice production that will support families. People of NC dont want to work for IBM, they just want to live free and support a family.

For eastern NC, rural means farms..not sure how this statement holds up on the west side of the state as Ive never been west of I-95.

As far as I can tell they're included in the report

Small family farms don't provide a large source of year-round employment. It isn't that they don't count....they just don't provide what this report is actually measuring.

Vote Democratic! The ass you save may be your own.

would seem to me

that if there is 1000 family farmers living off of their farm then that is a business that should have their collective weight accounted for. We know there are more then that many farmers in NC, but they dont show up anywhere, thus in the grand scheme of things, are just people to remember when doing subsisties.

If every family farm went out of existance, the families that are supported by those farms would then need a job someplace else, correct? So while these family farms are "doing thier thing", they are not counted for much, until you count all of them as a business to include the onsies and twosies of farm hands supported by these farms.

There is actually a lot of people that are "just farmers" but are not placed anywhere else. They are a small astirick * in most reports if that.

And who wants to be a farmer?

But, who can live without a farmer?

Pick Me!

I wanted to be a farmer. I went to FSA to apply for a loan to buy an organic farm.

They laughed at me.

"Everyone is getting out of farming, why do you want to get in?"

Unfortunately, I gave the wrong answer...I said I grew up on a farm and wanted to be a farmer.

Bzzzzzt...the correct answer was, 'I want to make money.'

So much for that business plan.

When lettuce is $7.99 a pound, when beef is $29.95 a pound, when peaches cannot be had for any amount - maybe then America will realize how much farmers mean to this country.

Goodbye, produce. Hello, soylent green.

Great diary, SD

One wonders how the weave room expert or lathe operator is going to fit in with the Google culture. /snark

Of course, that's after the 40 year old with a mortgage and kids goes back to school and gets a math or programming degree from Davidson or Guilford or Elon on the 12 months of Trade Affected Worker retraining he'll get. Right.

"They took all the trees and put them in a tree museum Then they charged the people a dollar 'n a half just to see 'em. Don't it always seem to go that you don't know what you've got till it's gone? They paved paradise and put up a parking lot."

You've pretty much summed it up

Robin Hayes lied. Nobody died, but thousands of folks lost their jobs.

Vote Democratic! The ass you save may be your own.


I consider industrial hemp as the answer to so many of our woes in this great state. Besides being a crop that can be grown anywhere, with far less pesticides than tobacco, it can be used for food, paper, textiles, plastics, biomass-derived fuel (energy independence) and so much more. And, it is heavy to transport in harvested form, so it would need to be processed locally, creating thousands of jobs dispersed evenly throughout the state. It’s an idea whose time has come, again. We just need the will to take things back into our own hands.

Welcom loftT, good comment

would be interesting to see a whole diary dedicated to Hemp! Thanks for joining the discussions, and welcome to the community.

No matter that patriotism is too often the refuge of scoundrels. Dissent, rebellion, and all-around hell-raising remain the true duty of patriots.

Progressive Discussions