There are some who are championing the latest data from the US Census Bureau as further evidence of some unique experience in North Carolina driven by policy changes that dismantled and restricted many of our best income- and economy-boosting tools.
The John Locke Foundation erroneously claimed that North Carolina had the fastest growing median household income in the country this week from 2013 to 2015 using the survey not designed anymore to answer over time questions. The data from the U.S. Census best suited to the question at hand actually shows that North Carolina’s median household income grew at the third slowest rate over the period cited by the Locke Foundation. That rate 2.4 percent for NC was half the rate of the national average (4.9 percent). Those data are more in keeping with the experience of the many North Carolinians who everyday still aren’t feeling the benefits of the national recovery.
And of course the claim that there would be some connection between economic outcomes and the policy choices made by the Governor or General Assembly—which has never been supported by any rigorous tests of a causal relationship—received an additional blow this week. The same Census data release demonstrated many of the very tools—EITCs, unemployment insurance, food assistance—eliminated or reduced by elected leaders have effectively lifted millions out of poverty across the country.
Those touting the policy changes made by the Governor and the General Assembly as causing an economic improvement that hasn’t reached many often select years to make their case that tell us little about whether we have made progress from the lowest point in the recession or since the expansion began.
In doing so, they can show improvements that are important but not sufficient to undo the damage of years of recessionary conditions or capable of setting the state on the trajectory needed to capitalize on the national expansion.
But again, North Carolina is not leading on the critical measures of wages and income even under these time periods. Looking at the period since 2012, North Carolina’s median household income has grown by 2.6 percent, half the national growth rate—a pattern that continues if you move the year forward to 2013 as noted above. In fact, North Carolina had the slowest meaningful growth in median household income over the period 2012 to 2015 and third slowest since 2013 when the national economic expansion appears to have taken hold.
So here are the data on median household income for North Carolina:
- When compared to other states, North Carolina ranks 41st for its median household income level of $47,830 in 2015.
- North Carolina’s median household income is roughly $3,200 lower than it was in 2007 when adjusting for the rising costs of goods and services.
The failure of the income of the median NC household to fully recover means that households can’t cover a very modest household budget for a family of four for an entire month in a year. More than likely it means that throughout the year households are curtailing their spending, taking on more debt, working more hours and dipping into savings that are supposed to build assets and that hurts the broader economy and us all.
A renewed focus on what the Census Bureau data shows us works to lift Americans out of poverty and deliver strong income gains should be the top priority in North Carolina.