It is time to put tired economic myths out to pasture. While the fallout from this year’s election is far from settled, let’s hope that we can at least move past some familiar economic arguments that have distracted from the real economic challenges facing our state.
First, we’ve been treated to several years of leaders in Raleigh touting the “Carolina Comeback”, even though it was always more of a nice-sounding phrase than actual reality. October’s labor market data show that around half of the counties in North Carolina have not experienced real economic recovery. Fifty-one of North Carolina’s one hundred counties still have fewer jobs than before the recession, which is why celebrations about North Carolina’s economic prowess ring more than a bit hollow.
We also need to dispense with the simplistic idea that economic problems are limited to rural and small town North Carolina. Cities like Raleigh and Charlotte have certainly fared better than many small communities, but the reality is more mixed and challenging than the simple urban vs. rural narrative would make it seem. In fact, ten of North Carolina’s fifteen metropolitan areas have a higher unemployment rate today than before the Great Recession, and only two metropolitan areas have actually reduced the number of people looking for work. That’s right, even in urban areas that have had a comparatively better run of it during the recovery, there are still not enough jobs for everyone that wants to work.
Lastly, we have to accept that economic policy enacted in Raleigh over the last several years has not fixed what’s broken in North Carolina. Cutting taxes has not ensured that everyone who wants a job can find one, or meant that hard work pays a living wage, or lifted the crushing weight of student debt, or delivered affordable health coverage for everyone, or built the physical and digital infrastructure that the modern economy demands, or helped people whose jobs have been lost to globalization and automation to transition into new careers. All of these fundamental challenges remain, and mere repetition will not transform talking points into real economic answers.