That’s the theme of JLF head John Hood’s column today. Traditionally the debate about economic policy in North Carolina is largely urban versus rural. John makes a very good point that many of the state’s urban areas aren’t doing so hot these days:
When I go on the air or in front of audiences to discuss North Carolina’s sluggish economy, one response I often hear is that the problem isn’t really statewide. The state’s major metropolitan areas are doing fine, I am assured, while it’s the rural areas that are truly struggling to produce new jobs and economic opportunities.
I wish that were the case. Although the urban-rural divide is challenging and not easily solved, at least it is a familiar problem. Urban areas have been growing faster than rural areas for a long, long time. Unfortunately, North Carolina’s economic woes aren’t limited to those of outmoded mill towns or depopulated farming communities.
Under the U.S. Census Bureau’s latest re-jiggering of metropolitan area designations, North Carolina has 14 metros on the list. According to the latest unemployment rates from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, only three of those 14 metros — Asheville, Durham-Chapel Hill, and Raleigh-Cary — have jobless rates below the nationwide median of 7 percent for metro areas. The unemployment rates in Winston-Salem (7.7 percent), Jacksonville (8 percent), Burlington (8.2 percent), Charlotte-Gastonia-Rock Hill (8.3 percent), Wilmington (8.3 percent), Goldsboro (8.4 percent), Greensboro-High Point (8.6 percent), and Greenville (8.7 percent) are worse than the national median. “Worse” becomes “egregiously worse” in Hickory-Lenoir-Morganton (9.1 percent), Fayetteville (9.8 percent), and Rocky Mount (12 percent).