Prosperity Watch Issue 60, No. 1: Land of Unequal Opportunity

April 5, 2016

An economy that works well for everyone remains elusive for many North Carolinians, according to county-by-county Economic Snapshots that the Budget & Tax Center released last week. 

The depth of economic hardship varies strikingly depending on where one lives. Historic patterns of hardship make some regions more susceptible to poverty and inequality of opportunity than others. This is particularly true in the rural eastern and far western parts of the state where residents have poorer access to high-quality public schools, high-quality jobs, medical care, and other networks that can improve their well-being and financial standing.

The Economic Snapshots include county-level indicators that paint a picture of all 100 counties’ labor market conditions, residents’ ability to make ends meet and afford a modest rent, health and education outcomes, and work and income supports for people doing their best to get by.

State-level data can mask the range of experiences that are occurring in counties across the state, as illustrated  in the chart below that showcases five key indicators that are included in the snapshot. For example, no county is untouched by child poverty but the child poverty rate runs a wide range from a low of 13.1 percent to a high of 46.6 percent among the 100 counties. The same is the case for the share of the population with a Bachelor’s degree or higher where the share ranges from a low of 8 percent to a high of 56.2 percent.

These ranges are a reflection of unequal opportunities for children, families, and workers across the state—where you live truly matters for your shot to get ahead.

North Carolina’s official state toast boasts that our state is, “Where the weak grow strong and the strong grow great.” Yet without targeted state investments and policies that support ladders of opportunity, especially in economically distressed counties, the hope and reality in these words will continue to ring hallow for many North Carolinians. Reversing the widespread inequality of opportunity that persists across the state is an economic imperative if North Carolina seeks to build a robust and genuine economic recovery.

Research & Publications: