RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) — In many of the ways the North Carolina Budget and Tax Center tracks the state’s economy, not much has changed since last year.
That’s the problem, an analyst said.
“The lack of change … stands out to me a little bit more than any kind of major shifts,” said Logan Rockefeller Harris, one of the center’s policy analysts.
The organization has released detailed snapshots of the economy for all 100 counties along with one that covers all of North Carolina.
It tracks nearly 40 economic indicators, ranging from the percentage of people who live in poverty to education levels to average life expectancies by race.
At the state level, the vast majority of rates and percentages remain effectively the same, in many cases differing only by a single percentage point.
But that stability isn’t always a good thing.
For example, the child poverty rate has hovered near 20 percent for at least three straight years. More than 1 in 5 Black people statewide continues to live in poverty. And the median salary for women still trails men by more than $20,000.
“That, to me, is a signal that there are investments that need to be made,” Harris said. “And we could choose to make similar choices at the state level to address those numbers.”
Some wide differences show up between counties. The child poverty rate swings from just 8 percent in Clay County to 46 percent in Washington County. And the median earnings for a woman with a college degree in Graham County ($26,200) is less than half what it is in nearby Clay ($60,200).
There were some modest year-over-year improvements, most having to do with employment and income.
— The unemployment rate fell from 4.9 percent last year to 3.4 percent this year.
— The number of employed people increased by nearly 137,000, to 4.9 million.
— The median worker earnings rose 3 percent to $38,500.
— And the median household income climbed nearly 4 percent to $56,600.
The biggest change: A massive jump in what the group calls the living income standard, the amount of money a household needs to make in a year to pay for basic needs like housing, food, childcare, health care, transportation and taxes.
At the state level, a single parent with two children needs to make $60,700 to make ends meet — a 27 percent increase from last year, when it was $47,700.
But that difference had nothing to do with anything that happened in the state — it was simply because for the first time since 2019, the group updated the figures that factor into calculating that number.
“We think that it’s really important to kind of start from thinking about a family’s needs,” Harris said. “And the living income standard is one way of looking at that, saying, ‘What does the family really need to kind of support themselves and their children over the long term?’”
Understanding this information and what it means is one thing.
But in a practical sense, what can you do with it?
Harris says the data can be the starting point for conversations with people in your community, and more importantly for your elected leaders about their policies and voting choices.
“If people are specifically wanting to address poverty, for example, they could think about putting local dollars into programs that are supporting working families,” Harris said. “They can also advocate at the state level for programs.”