The release of the 2013-2014 Economic Snapshots for all 100 counties provides another opportunity to reflect on how our communities are faring in today’s economy. The official economic recovery began in mid-2009 but has been slow to replace the jobs lost during the Recession and quick to produce primarily low-wage jobs that are holding incomes down and keeping poverty high.
A new interactive at NC Policy Watch features a few socio-economic indicators from the snapshots, including the change in employed persons since 2007, the poverty rate, the graduation rate, life expectancy and nominal median hourly wage change over the recovery. Below is a preview of the findings but you can find all the county profiles here and one for North Carolina too.
Change in employed persons since the recession began in 2007: 83,593
The fact that there are more employed people across all 100 counties nearly eight years since the Great Recession began is a good sign but it doesn’t signify a healthy economy. In fact, the greater number of employed persons is not sufficient to ensure that the share of the population employed is at pre-recession levels. More disturbingly for this indicator, there are still 75 counties that have fewer employed persons than they did in 2007. Robeson County still has 7,926 fewer people employed while Mecklenburg County has 73,958 more people employed.
2013 poverty rate: 17.8%
The poverty rate has remained persistently high despite the official economic recovery in large part due to the boom in low-wage work and the continued challenges of finding employment opportunities in many communities. Camden County had the lowest poverty rate in 2013 at 9.5% while the highest poverty rate of 34.1% occurred in Scotland County.
Graduation rate: 83.9%
The graduation rate for a cohort over four years in North Carolina reached 83.9% in 2013-2014. This the highest recorded graduation rate in state history, a significant achievement. It also, however, masks the variation in graduation rates across communities and demographic groups driven by barriers to success such as lower levels of funding, student supports and higher poverty levels. Northampton County had the lowest graduation rate at 70.7% and Avery County had the highest graduation rate of 95%.
Life expectancy: 78.3
Life expectancy is a measure of population level health and has been found to be related to economic outcomes such as inequality and employment opportunities as well as environmental factors such as the quality of air, availability of green spaces and infrastructure for healthy living like healthy food options. Within North Carolina, there exists wide variation in a person’s life expectancy at birth. A child born in Swain County is expected to live 73.1 years while a child born in Orange County is expected to live 81.7 years on average.
Nominal wage growth since the recovery began: 6.3%
Nominal wage growth compares hourly wages from 2009 to 2015 without adjusting for inflation. This is a common measure of the strength of the economy with an expected growth rate of 3.5 to 4% annually signaling that workers are sharing in broader improvements in the economy. The state’s nominal wage growth over the six year period since 2009 is just 6.3% or slightly more than 1% wage growth annual far from the threshold considered healthy. Moreover, in 51 counties nominal wage growth over the period actually declined. Bertie, Martin and Jones Counties had nominal wage growth rates in line with economists expectations while Yancey, Tyrrell and Graham Counties had rates of decline in nominal wages greater than 10 percent.