NC Budget and Tax Center

A look at the seven N.C. Counties that will be on the Eclipse’s “path of totality”

Next Monday, Aug. 21, the continental U.S. will experience a total eclipse of the sun from coast to coast for the first time in 99 years, and North Carolina is one of the 14 states that will be in the eclipse’s “path of totality.” Across the U.S., 290 counties will be in the path of totality, and seven of these counties are here in our state.

The seven N.C. counties that will be in the path of totality include: Cherokee, Graham, Swain, Clay, Macon, Jackson and Transylvania.

That the solar eclipse will draw millions of people to mostly rural counties across the U.S. is no secret. However, what might be unknown on that day to millions of travelers is the actual population and poverty rate of the rural county that they are visiting, and what it truly looks like when the sun does shine.

Here are the populations, poverty rates, and interesting facts about the seven N.C. counties that will be in the eclipse’s path of totality. It is worth noting that five of the seven counties have a poverty rate that is higher than the state average (16.4 percent), six of the seven counties have a median age that is significantly higher than the state median age (38), and the combined population of the seven counties (175,016) is equivalent to double the population of Asheville.

A look at the seven North Carolina counties that will be on the Eclipse’s path of totality

County

Population

Poverty Impacts (State average: 16.4%)

Median Age (State Median Age: 38)

Interesting Fact

Cherokee

27,935

18.3% of county
residents (4,902 people)

50

Is the westernmost county in NC.

Graham

8,684

21% of county
residents (1,783 people)

45

Is the only dry county in NC (the only one in which alcohol sales are forbidden).

Swain

15,256

16.2% of county residents (2,295 people)

41

The county seat, Bryson City, has two live webcams that you view the city happenings from.

Clay

11,140

17.4% of county
residents (1,845 people)

51

377 is the total population of the town of Hayesville, the county seat.

Macon

35,411

18.8% of county
residents (8,183 people)

49

Home to various waterfalls (Cullasaja Falls, Dry Falls, Bridal Veil Falls, Quarry Falls).

Jackson

42,221

20.9% of county
residents (7,879 people)

37

Richland Balsam is the county’s tallest peak (6,410 ft.) as well as the highest point along the entire Blue Ridge Parkway (6,053 feet).

Transylvania

34,369

15.4% of county
residents (4,983 people)

51

Is the wettest county in NC, receiving over 90 inches of rain annually.
Sources: The Budget & Tax Center’s County Economic Snapshots (released April 2017), NC OSBM County Estimates.

Luis A. Toledo is a Public Policy Analyst for the Budget & Tax Center, a project of the North Carolina Justice Center.

NC Budget and Tax Center, Trump Administration

Why does the President tweet about stock market levels but not our poverty rate?

Since July 1, President Trump has tweeted to celebrate the results of the U.S. stock market nine times and has tweeted about strong jobs numbers thirteen times. His frequent tweeting about these two metrics appears to indicate that they are his key indicators for assessing how we are doing as a country. It is worth noting, however, that during this timeframe not once has he tweeted about the “poverty rate” in the U.S. Why not?

Yes, the U.S. stock market, as measured by the Dow Jones Industrial Average, seems to be doing well as the Dow posted record closing highs all of last week. This, however, should not be too surprising. Since 2013, the U.S. stock market has hit a new high closing record 157 times (123 times under President Obama, 34 times under President Trump). Here’s another way of looking at it: The U.S. stock market has hit an all-time high in 30 of the last 54 months. In other words, the U.S. stock market has been doing well for quite some time now, meaning the record-breaking numbers that the President is tweeting about aren’t quite as rare as they might seem.

What should be surprising and alarming is the fact that the President does not seem to view the U.S. poverty rate as a key indicator of how America is doing.

In a recent article Politico points out that economists have frequently found little relationship between returns on stock investments and real economic growth. Instead, it appears that a strong stock market helps the rich get richer while the poor get poorer, through the increasing income inequality gap. The article points out, “about 80 percent of the value of the stock market is held by the richest 10 percent of the nation; the vast majority of gains in share value accrue to the rich, not to most Americans.”

Understanding and tracking the poverty rate in the United States and in North Carolina is important because it is an indicator of whether the economy is delivering opportunity for all. It goes without saying that the greatest country in the world, and the one with strongest economy, should not have a high number of people that are poor.

Unfortunately, Read more

NC Budget and Tax Center, Trump Administration

Essential nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office is now at risk by proposed amendment

Nonpartisan federal government agencies that often go unnoticed but are vital for good government include the U.S Congressional Budget Office (CBO) and the Government Accountability Office (GAO). The CBO, for example, has provided Congress with budgetary and economic information in a variety of ways and at various points in the legislative process for over 40 years.

The concept of good government has always been vital to our democracy. Good government at its core promotes principles such as accountability, openness, integrity, transparency, and reliability. When good government, including agencies such as the CBO and GAO, is supported, the nation and its entire people thrive.

Unfortunately, in Congress, House lawmakers have now introduced an amendment to eliminate CBO’s entire Budget Analysis division (cutting 89 positions) and cut CBO’s budget by $15 million.

Just for reference, CBO currently has a staff of about 235 people. In other words, the proposed amendment would cut CBO’s staff by 38 percent. And from a budget standpoint, the amendment means CBO would lose a third (33 percent) of its funding next year.

A cut of this magnitude would severely damage effective and long-standing good government processes that have helped the U.S. for decades, as professional staff would no longer be able to analyze federal spending or provide formal cost estimates for nearly every bill approved by Congressional committees.

Rep. Mark Meadows

North Carolina’s U.S. House Representative, Mark Meadows (R-District 11), who supports this amendment to cut CBO has stated he would use a rule called the Holman Rule, which allows Congress to cut salaries for individual federal workers, for the first time since 1983. The concern here is that if the House succeeds in doing this to CBO, they could replicate this type of cut at other agencies. [Note: The Holman Rule which was removed in 1983 was reinstated by House Republicans earlier this year.]

All of this is ironic and unfortunate considering that just last Friday every former CBO director signed a letter to congressional leadership that stated: “We write to express our strong objection to recent attacks on the integrity and professionalism of the agency and on the agency’s role in the legislative process.”

No matter which political party one belongs to, it is important to know that these types of devastating budget and staffing cuts to a government agency that is grounded on upholding good government principles are wrong. The CBO has consistently proven that it takes a number of steps to ensure that all of its work is objective, impartial, and nonpartisan—the importance of which was emphasized by CBO’s founding director, Alice Rivlin, in a 1-page memo to CBO staff in 1976 and is posted on CBO’s website.

Luis A. Toledo is a Public Policy Analyst for the Budget & Tax Center, a project of the North Carolina Justice Center.

CBO Memo to Staff (1976) by LT on Scribd

NC Budget and Tax Center, public health

NC’s and the nation’s uninsured rate has fallen to a historic low under ACA, but you’d never know that listening to Senate leaders

Here’s some important and quick facts that all Americans and North Carolinians should know this week, when the Senate will formally vote in an attempt to repeal the Affordable Care Act:

The United States has made significant progress over the past seven years when it comes to reducing the number of people that are uninsured, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). In 2016, only 9 percent of America’s population was uninsured, compared to 18.2 percent in 2010. That’s the lowest share since the CDC began tracking this statistic 45 years ago! If you prefer numbers: 28 million people were uninsured last year, compared to over 48 million in 2010. In NC, only 11.4 percent of all North Carolinians were uninsured last year, compared to 21.3 percent in 2010. Take a moment to think about that.

“There has never been a decline this large and over such a short period of time.” –Rachel Garfield, associate director for the Kaiser Family Foundation’s Program on Medicaid and the Uninsured.

The last time the percentage of uninsured in our country was close to the historic low of 9 percent we saw in 2016 was 39 years ago, in 1978. Here are a few things that happened back in 1978 (when the percentage of persons under 65 without health insurance was 12 percent):

    • President Jimmy Carter signed H.R. 1337 into law, which allowed home-brewing of beer in the United States (sparking the craft beer revolution).
    • U.S. Senate proceedings were broadcasted on radio for the first time.
    • Grease, starring John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John, was released.
    • Woody Allen’s Annie Hall won Best Picture.
    • The rainbow flag of the LGBT movement flew for the first time at the San Francisco Gay Freedom Day Parade.
    • Pope John Paul II became the 264th pope.
    • Mavis Hutchinson, a 53-year-old grandmother, became the first woman to run across the U.S.
    • The Dallas Cowboys defeated the Denver Broncos in Super Bowl XII.
    • Pete Rose, the all-time MLB leader in hits, gets his 3,000th major league hit.

Below you can see the official U.S long-term trends in health insurance coverage since 1968:

CDC_US Healthinsurance1968-2015 by LT on Scribd

Luis A. Toledo is a Public Policy Analyst for the Budget & Tax Center, a project of the North Carolina Justice Center.

NC Budget and Tax Center, public health, Trump Administration

Warning: Last-ditch GOP effort offering $200 billion to buy votes won’t fix unfixable Senate health bill

Earlier this week we reported that the Senate GOP health “repeal without replacement” proposal would do great harm to NC, as it would double the number of uninsured in North Carolina.

Unfortunately, the latest is that in a last-ditch effort to save their bill to repeal the Affordable Care Act (ACA), Senate Republican leaders are reportedly offering $200 billion to win the votes of senators from states that expanded Medicaid under the ACA.

Here’s a brief explanation from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities:

“This new fund would presumably supplement private coverage for those who gained Medicaid coverage under the expansion but would lose it under the Senate bill.  No senator should fall for it. While $200 billion seems like a lot of money, it’s only 17 percent of the bill’s $1.2 trillion in cuts: $756 billion from Medicaid and $427 billion from subsidies to help low- and moderate-income people buy coverage in the individual market.”

Overall, it is clear that this additional money would do nothing to fix the major and fundamental problems that the bill would create:

  • It would do nothing to offset the Medicaid cuts resulting from the per capita cap, which would affect children, seniors, and people with disabilities in all states.  These cuts would shift ever-increasing costs to states, forcing the states to respond by making ever-deepening cuts in eligibility, benefits, and provider payments.
  • It would do nothing to address the bill’s harm to people with private coverage, including the loss of coverage for millions of people (due largely to sharp cuts in marketplace subsidies), increased costs for those who stay covered, and the loss of access to health care for millions with pre-existing conditions.
  • It would do nothing to address the fact that millions of lower-income marketplace consumers in non-expansion states (like North Carolina) would see their deductibles jump many thousands of dollars under the Senate bill.

No one should be fooled:  The reported $200 billion cannot fix this bill, and does not come close to undoing coverage cuts.

Here’s what would really help, as we stated earlier this week:

“Based on the facts, it is clear that NC’s two U.S. senators should support the idea of starting from scratch with a different, bipartisan approach that leaves Medicaid aside and focus on making real improvements to marketplace stability and affordability.”

Luis A. Toledo is a Public Policy Analyst for the Budget & Tax Center, a project of the North Carolina Justice Center.