[North Carolina’s economic recovery has not been widely shared]
[https://portside.org/] 

 IN NC'S STRUGGLING REGIONS: 'FOLKS FEEL LIKE THEY’VE HAD THE HELL
KICKED OUT OF THEM.'  
[https://portside.org/2018-04-01/ncs-struggling-regions-folks-feel-theyve-had-hell-kicked-out-them]


 

 Gene Nichol 
 March 29, 2018
News and Observer
[http://www.newsobserver.com/opinion/op-ed/article207260424.html] 

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 _ North Carolina’s economic recovery has not been widely shared _ 

 A sign near Princeton points the way to other towns in May 2001. ,
Chuck Liddy [log in to unmask] 

 

My colleagues and I, from the NC Poverty Research Fund, spent much
time last year in two very distinct communities — Goldsboro and
Wilkes County. Our studies there indicated clearly that North
Carolina’s economic recovery has not been widely shared. They also
revealed much about the state’s yawning rural-urban divide. Finally,
they highlighted a continuing polarization that marks the politics of
North Carolina and the South.

Goldsboro, of course, lies about 60 miles southeast of Raleigh, in
Wayne County. Its population, some 36,000, has actually dropped
modestly since 1990. Although Seymour Johnson Air Force Base provides
a sound and much-needed economic foundation, Goldsboro’s poverty
challenges are among the most daunting in North Carolina.

A 2015 national study found Goldsboro to be the fifth-poorest city in
America. Stanford University's mobility studies concluded that 95
percent of the country’s metropolitan areas had better economic
mobility rates than Goldsboro. The Pew Research Center determined, in
2016, that the last decade brought the city a 26 percent drop in
median income and huge losses in middle income employment. Both
figures were among the very worst the country has experienced.

Over 25 percent of Goldsboro residents live in poverty. Forty percent
of all kids are poor, over half of African-American children. In some
census tracts we studied, 65 percent of kids were impoverished. And
Goldsboro has nearly the worst racially-driven, concentrated poverty
in North Carolina.

Safe, affordable housing is a gigantic problem. A full-time working
single mom’s story was typical. All she could afford was the housing
authority “and it’s terrible and dangerous, there are gunshots all
the time.” Ambulances and police are always here, she said. She
wishes there was a “porch or backyard where her children could play
safely, but that’s not possible.” The public school bus only stops
two blocks down the road. “Everybody knows that’s too dangerous
for kids to walk to,” she sighed.

Wilkes County shares much of this record of hardship, though it
wasn’t always so. Nestled into the eastern slope of the Blue Ridge,
with the Yadkin River at its core, Wilkes is about a half-hour drive
from Boone, sharing much of its beauty. Once home to Lowe’s,
Northwest Bank, Holly Farms, Carolina Mirror and North Wilkesboro
Speedway, the county was ravaged by NAFTA.

Median income dropped by nearly 30 percent over 15 years. In the late
1990s, the unemployment rate was a remarkable 2 percent. A decade
later it had soared to over 13 percent. Half of all Wilkes households
now make under $30,000. A quarter of its 69,000 residents live in
poverty, a third of all children. There are, today, 5,000 fewer
private-sector jobs than existed in 1995. Twice as many folks live in
mobile homes as the state average. Disability, overdose and addiction
rates are high. Almost 90 percent of the county population is white.

Tina Krause of Hospitality House explains, “a lot of folks in the
community I love have a lot of things to unpack.” But “I have a
heart for them,” Krause says, “they are, ‘by God, Wilkes
County.”

Decent, safe housing is a challenge in Wilkes too. I think
particularly of a family I interviewed in a small mobile home lot last
summer. The trailers were ancient and pressed in close proximity.
Confederate flags and Trump signs were on broad display. (There were
none in the housing projects of Goldsboro.) The windows were closed
tight and covered with sheets, though it was exceedingly hot. Fans ran
full speed, pushing around the stifling air. The smell of mold was
intense. Two kids played on their aunt and uncle’s floor. The adults
were hopeful the young ones would have a better chance than they’d
had.

There is little of the Triangle or Charlotte’s boom in Goldsboro’s
east or Wilkes’ west. As one local leader explained, “a lot of
folks here have been on the losing end for a long time and feel like
they’ve had the hell kicked out of them.” They report no actual
sense of comeback or recovery. They’re frantic for their
children’s future.

It is also illuminating to think of the discussions around kitchen
tables in both the Goldsboro projects and the Wilkesboro mobile home
lots. The disparate residents likely consider themselves political and
cultural adversaries. But their fears and aspirations follow nearly
identical paths. They seek better schools, higher paying jobs,
affordable health and child care, decent places to live, safe streets,
electric bills they can manage, and meaningful access to public
transportation. They’re also certain their political leaders know
absolutely nothing about their actual lives.

_Gene Nichol is the Boyd Tinsley Distinguished Professor of Law at the
University of North Carolina._

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