Good news still falls short in local economy


By Cindy Beamon

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

As I drive through Moyock, I get a feeling that the local economy is picking up.

I see a new subdivision under construction and new businesses popping up in various places. The buzz about new plans for downtown Elizabeth City is also encouraging -- although the wait seems long.

My personal observations are confirmed by a recent news release, based on an interview with economist Michael Walden of North Carolina State University.

Walden had both good and bad news for people living in rural North Carolina.

The article said that lower unemployment and soaring stock prices point to a stronger economy statewide. In November, Forbes Magazine named North Carolina the best state for business in 2017, the release stated.

There are some other signs, however, that seem to indicate that good economic news has not entirely benefited everyone. Rural North Carolina is lagging behind when it comes to wages.

"The two big issues we see everywhere, but more pronounced in North Carolina, first, the job market," said Walden. "The good news is we're seeing an increase in higher paying jobs, professional jobs that need a college education. But the bad news is we seen an equal percentage growth in lower-paying jobs combined with little or no growth in middle-paying jobs.''

He said the "hollowing out of the labor force" -- with more jobs for higher and lower ends of the pay spectrum -- reflects a changing economy.

He said fewer higher paying manufacturing jobs are available to people living in rural North Carolina. Instead, the higher-paying jobs are found in metro areas, and he expects the "geographic divide" will only grow in coming decades.

Based on a study released by Walden in North Carolina, "North Carolina's per capita income and per worker earnings relative to the nation have declined. Behind this trend is a decrease in middle-pay jobs in North Carolina relative to the nation's increase, combined with a larger increase in low-pay jobs in North Carolina relative to the nation."

"North Carolina was a middle-class state. We had about 55 percent of households in middle-pay jobs. Now North Carolina is down to high 30s or 40 percent," he added.

He suggested that an "attitude shift" about education may help re-build middle class opportunities.

"While a four-year degree opens you up to a wider range of job possibilities, we are actually looking at a potential shortage of workers in areas like electricians, plumbers, carpenters, truck drivers, some in the medical field," he said.

My personal observation also seems to confirm this idea. We have been searching for contractors to repair damage to our house after suffering a frozen pipe. So far, we've lost plenty of time waiting for return phone calls and estimates to get the work done.

Cindy Beamon is editor of the Albemarle Life section of The Daily Advance.