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Earlier this month, the North Carolina Economic Development Board released a new strategic plan for creating jobs and growing the state’s economy over the next decade. The plan listed a number of admirable and important policy goals, including supporting innovation and entrepreneurship, promoting rural prosperity, and strengthening community-level opportunities for economic revitalization.

Unfortunately, last year’s tax cuts and budget cuts have greatly undermined the state’s ability to achieve these goals going forward.

In order to accommodate the $525 million in revenues lost to last year’s tax cut package and still balance the state budget, lawmakers made deep cuts to many core investments—including long-standing state support for nonprofits engaged in economic and community development work.  In the current biennium, the portion of the state budget responsible for these important initiatives—Commerce-State Aid—was cut by $38 million, a 64 percent reduction.

And even this overall reduction masks the true damage to the state’s ability to invest in meeting the new economic development objectives laid out in the strategic plan. The real damage comes from the specific initiatives that were singled out for cuts or outright elimination.

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In another sign of an economy that is failing to provide for working families, the share of female-headed working families considered low- income is increasing nationwide. There are now 4.1 million low-income families headed by working mothers in the United States, according to a new report by the Working Poor Families Project. The number of low-income working families that were headed by women jumped to 58 percent of the total in 2012, up from 54 percent in 2007. Figures are substantially higher for communities of color.

The low-income threshold for a family of three with two children was $36,966 (roughly twice the federal poverty line), according to the authors of the report.

The picture isn’t any rosier in North Carolina, which ranks 19th in the nation for the number of female-headed, low-income families. Of the 380,113 low-income working families in the state, 40 percent—or roughly 151,000—were headed by working mothers. Working hard simply isn’t enough for these families to make ends meet. Yet, we know that our economy grows best when the gains are broadly shared across the income distribution. Read More

An oversight committee at the General Assembly splashed more cold water on claims that policy decisions made in the 2013 legislative session are responsible for big improvements in the state’s economy.

In testimony before the Joint Legislative Oversight Committee on Unemployment Insurance Wednesday, N.C. State economist Dr. Michael Walden made the crucial point that North Carolina’s economic recovery began in 2009—long before 2013—and is largely shaped by broader national and global economic trends beyond the influence of the state’s policy makers.

According to Walden, North Carolina’s experience of business cycles has often been bumpier than the nation’s—with faster growth in recoveries and steeper falls during recessions. Over the past two business cycles, the Tarheel State saw bigger percentage job losses than did the nation as a whole during recessionary periods. As a result, the state’s employment growth since the recession ended in 2009 is still insufficient to deliver the jobs needed to provide everyone a job who is seeking work and close the state’s jobs deficit—despite seeing employment grow at a faster rate than the average.

Taken together with the fact that North Carolina created fewer jobs in 2013 than it did the year before, according to preliminary estimates from the establishment survey, these trends make it clear that the current economic recovery is neither all that special, nor can employment growth be linked to policies enacted last year.

And while the state’s labor market is clearly moving in the right direction, recent improvements are still not enough to return employment to pre-recession levels. In fact, at the current rate of job creation holding all else constant, it will take 13 years to replace the jobs lost during the Great Recession and keep up with population growth.

Given this reality, it’s clear that policy makers are just plain wrong when they claim that the policies they enacted in 2013 are responsible for an economic turnaround in North Carolina.

Shifting more of the responsibility for funding schools to localities, as some North Carolina lawmakers are advocating, would trap many children in underfunded schools and force up property taxes.
 
Our K-12 public schools are already suffering from significant cuts in state funding made by the legislature in recent years. For the current school year, state funding per student is 11 percent lower ($653 less) compared to six years ago, taking account of inflation. This has meant fewer teachers and teaching assistants in classrooms, larger class sizes, less money for textbooks and other instructional material, and an average salary for North Carolina teachers that ranks 46th among states.
 
Further reducing the state’s commitment to our school children would make these troubling trends even worse, particularly in poorer school districts, and turn our education system into one of haves and have-nots. That’s because state money helps schools in areas with few local resources fill in the gaps, allowing children who live in those communities to have some of the same opportunities as children who live in wealthier communities. Read More