BY SABINE SCHOENBACH Rejoice! North Carolina’s economy is making a comeback! Wait a minute. You didn’t notice the “comeback”? Your community is still struggling? You’re not alone.
There’s a very real disconnect between the way lawmakers have been touting the success of last year’s economic policy decisions and the reality most North Carolinians continue to face. With the primary election on the horizon, I wanted to reflect on some of the decisions our elected officials made in 2013.
Repaying a debt on the backs of the unemployed
Legislators made restructuring our state’s unemployment insurance (UI) one of their top priorities in 2013. The law attracted national media attention— with headlines like “North Carolina Shows How to Crush the Unemployed”—as it slashed jobless workers’ benefits, reduced the amount of time workers can receive those benefits, and rejected hundreds of millions of dollars in federal extended benefits.
Lawmakers claimed that these cuts were the only way to pay off the UI trust fund debt, but better, more equitable solutions were available. In the meantime, jobless workers have to pay off more than two-thirds of the trust fund debt (which, by the way, occurred because employers paid too little into the system in prior years).
To add insult to injury, lawmakers have repeatedly cited cutting unemployment benefits as the reason for our state’s reduced unemployment rate. A closer look at the jobs report for North Carolina tells the real story: job growth in North Carolina still lags behind the nation. Many jobless workers have given up on the employment search and have dropped out of the labor force. That’s nothing to celebrate.
Shifting the tax burden to middle class and low-income North Carolinians
Last year, lawmakers gave North Carolinians a tax plan that provides a windfall for the wealthy. By replacing the progressive income tax with a flat rate tax, the new plan offers almost two-thirds of the net tax cut to the richest 1% of North Carolinians. At the same time, low and middle-income North Carolinians will likely see an increase in their taxes.
The new tax plan also eliminated the Child Care and Dependent Tax Credit and, unlike the recent federal acknowledgement of the importance of the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC), the state has chosen to let its EITC program expire. Not only do these decisions shift the burden onto low- and moderate-income North Carolinians, they disproportionately and negatively affect North Carolina’s women and their families.
Yet, similar to the story being told about the UI cuts, state lawmakers have been pointing to these cuts as part of the “Carolina Comeback.” Behind this story are half a dozen truths we should all be worried about. It’s clear that these tax cuts won’t deliver the jobs being promised. And in the meantime, the state will have fewer dollars to invest in opportunity for all even while it asks more from those least able to pay.
I vote because I believe in an economy that works for all
Contrary to popular belief, economic policies that favor the wealthy and punish the unemployed don’t necessarily spur economic growth. As Women AdvaNCe has exposed before, North Carolinians need good jobs and adequate support in order to pay the bills. When bills don’t get paid, spending gets curtailed and our economy suffers.
I’m going to vote on Tuesday, May 6th because I believe that North Carolina can do better. I believe that we can achieve an economy that works for all.
May 6th is primary election day in North Carolina. Women make up 54% of voters of North Carolina voters, so let’s use our numbers to create change. Sign and share this online Vote Together 2014 pledge card. After you cast your ballot, don’t forget to take a snapshot of yourself with your “I voted” sticker. Send it to info@WomenAdvanceNC.org to be included in our album of Voting Day Selfies.