The way I see it, North Carolina’s approach to job creation has been on par with wiping your prized dining room table with Windex instead of furniture polish; you may succeed in wiping off the dust, but soon the shine disappears and you realize you’ve ruined your best furniture piece.
Compare this to North Carolina’s unemployment rate: on the surface, our unemployment rate has gone down to 6.4% and job creation is on the rise. But scratch beneath the surface and you’ll find that 80% of the jobs created between June 2009 and 2013 were in industries that pay workers less than the $33,709 a year they need to make ends meet.
Increasingly, economists are arguing that it’s not enough to just create jobs; jobs need to pay a living wage in order to make a difference. Slowly, some companies are starting to realize that paying their employees enough to pay their bills is key to their economic success. In fact, an organization based in Asheville has created a model to recognize those companies. Just Economics works with employers to understand the need for a living wage and then provides certification for them to place on their storefronts. Many of my friends in Asheville select businesses to patronize based on who has the living wage certification sticker in their door.
Unfortunately, the living wage movement has a long way to go before gaining traction outside of Asheville. Then there’s the issue of “missing workers:” people who would be in the labor market if job opportunities were stronger. The North Carolina Justice Center estimates that if the 230,000 of North Carolina’s missing workers got factored into the official unemployment rate, our state’s unemployment rate would sit at 11.3% (instead of 6.4%).
Further analysis by NC Policy Watch found that most of the state’s metro areas have not regained the jobs lost during the recession and it could take as much as a decade for them to fully bounce back.
It comes down to demanding truth in advertising on the part of our policy makers. Windex may advertise a sparkling shine, but it’s not sustainable in the long term. Let’s not our lawmakers tout a dropping unemployment rate without forcing them to include the “fine print.”