Longtime John Locke Foundation contributor and N.C. State agricultural economist Mike Walden has thrown more cold water on the over-the-top claims of Gov. Pat McCrory and the conservative leadership of the General Assembly. Walden breaks with right-wing orthodoxy and confirms some of the main findings of analysts at the N.C. Budget and Tax Center in his latest report on the state’s economy by painting a less-than-rosy picture. John Murawski of Raleigh’s News & Observer reports:
N.C. State University economist Michael Walden’s biannual economic diagnosis for the state warns that much of North Carolina’s post-recession growth is bypassing the so-called “routine” middle-income vocations and exacerbating the state’s growing regional gap and income inequality.
Walden’s report, issued Monday, shows that the most dramatic job growth in the state has taken place at the extremes of the pay scale. The greatest gains have benefited the highest-paying bracket: professional and business services category, which gained about 138,000 jobs since February 2010. Next in line are jobs in the lowest-paying category: retail and transportation jobs, gaining about 114,000 jobs, and restaurant and hospitality, gaining about 82,000 jobs.
Closely tracking that trend are the regional winners and losers behind those job numbers. Charlotte and Raleigh “are in a class of their own,” Walden writes, with 20 percent employment growth since 2010. Asheville, Durham and Wilmington have grown between 10 and 15 percent in employment. But economically distressed areas like Burlington, Goldsboro, Greensboro, Hickory, New Bern, Rocky Mount and rural regions are still below their pre-recession employment levels.
“The routine jobs are much more being taken over by technology,” Walden said. “The changes in economic structure are really behind the regional disparities that we see….”
“What stood out to me is the slow rate of growth in this expansion,” he said.
The state’s economy has become a study in contrasts. Even as the state’s jobless rate is projected to drop to 4.4 percent in 2017, with urban economic engines revving up high-paying white-collar jobs, the number of people left behind is not shrinking. About 175,000 people in North Carolina had given up looking for work or were under-employed in 2007, and that total doubled by 2011 in the wake of the recession, but earlier this year those discouraged and underemployed workers still totaled more than 250,000 in the state.