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New study finds economic mobility in North Carolina lags nation

Economic mobility in every region of North Carolina ranks well below the national average, according to a new report, and unless communities create better opportunities, the limited chances of success for a growing portion of the population could jeopardize the state’s economic future.

In partnership with the John M. Belk Endowment, MDC has researched and written the report, “North Carolina’s Economic Imperative: Building an Infrastructure of Opportunity,” part of our work with the endowment to study, address, and propose solutions for the low mobility rate of too many North Carolinians.

The report examines patterns of economic mobility and educational progress in North Carolina by demography and geography to determine who is being successfully prepared for entry and success in the most economically rewarding sectors of the state’s economy. The analysis focuses on the education-to-career continuum, a critical piece of an infrastructure of opportunity—the myriad systems that must be improved and aligned to prepare ever larger numbers of North Carolinians for family-sustaining work and a better shot at economic wellbeing.

That analysis is paired with a close look at eight localities across the state—Guilford County, Wilkes County, Fayetteville, Vance/Granville/Franklin/Warren counties, Monroe, Wilmington, Western North Carolina, and Pitt County— and sketches out a series of actions that communities across the state can take to strengthen and align these critical systems.

Among its key findings:

  • Upward mobility in 22 of North Carolina’s 24 regions called “commuting zones” ranks within the bottom quarter nationally – and Charlotte, Raleigh, Fayetteville and Greensboro rank in the bottom 10 of the nation’s 100 largest commuting zones.
  • While mobility varies depending on where people live, only about one-third of children born into North Carolina families making less than $25,000 annually manage to climb into middle and upper income levels as adults.
  • Latinos and African Americans are more likely than whites to be in poverty and attain lower levels of education, leaving them less prepared for high-skill, well-paying jobs – and those disparities will increasingly affect North Carolina’s economy as these populations grow to make up a larger proportion of the population.
  • A family of one parent and one child needs an income of $21 an hour to cover basic living expenses in North Carolina, yet only 26 percent of full-time jobs pay median earnings of that amount.

The analysis also found examples in the eight communities profiled of promising initiatives to strengthen the education-to-career pipeline and prepare more people for jobs that pay family-supporting wages. The report includes a road map communities can follow to create better opportunities, particularly for low-income, first-generation and minority students.

View the report here.