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NC Budget and Tax Center

A report released yesterday by ThinkNC First argues that decision makers in Raleigh have walked away from many of the programs that helped to build a middle-class in North Carolina. Authors William Lester and Nichola Lowe of the University of North Carolina review data showing that middle-income jobs have become much harder to find over the last decade. The report ties this disturbing trend to recent policy decisions to underfund state programs that foster industries that create livable wages and ensure that all North Carolinians can access those jobs. The report makes a strong case that state leaders should heed our history and remember how North Carolina became an economic powerhouse in the Southeast in the first place.

The central problem documented in the report is becoming increasingly difficult to ignore. For the second half of the 20th century, North Carolina’s economy generated strong employment growth up a down the wage scale. Since the start of the Great Recession however, most of the job growth has been in either very high or very low paying industries. The labor market hollowed out, as many industries, particularly in manufacturing, saw employment decline. We here are the Budget and Tax Center have been watching this same trend, and its not pretty.

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NC Budget and Tax Center

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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