Book Describes 'Hollowed Out' NC Labor Market

Jul 7, 2017

A new book looking at North Carolina's job market shows that it's growing, but so to is the divide between high and low paying jobs.

Michael Walden is an economist from North Carolina State University.  In a new book, he looked at data from 2001 to 2015.  Here’s what happened in Asheville, for instance.  Walden says higher paying jobs increased by 32 percent, lower paying jobs by 25 percent, what he called very healthy growth.

“But middle-paying jobs increased by only 3 percent.  So Asheville is certainly growing but in terms of a job market it’s growing on the two ends of the spectrum.”

That’s what’s called a “hollowing out” of the job market, and it makes upward mobility difficult for those on the low end.  The trend is similar across the nation but is more severe in North Carolina.  Walden says the reason is manufacturing.

“North Carolina traditionally was more a manufacturing state than the nation.  About twice as much of our economy traditionally was based on manufacturing.  It’s primarily because of our concentration of textile, apparel jobs, furniture jobs, cigarette manufacturing jobs… and those jobs have been decimated by changes in technology, trade deals, etc.  And so I think that’s the reason why we’ve seen that hollowing out.”

Walden says one big concern now is new automation possibly taking the place of workers.

“We have to watch this, number one.  And we number two, have to make sure our educational system, particularly our higher educational system, community colleges and 4 year colleges are able to be limber enough and adaptable enough to change to focus, for example, on where new occupations are springing up and move resources away perhaps from training programs for occupations that are falling by the wayside.”

Walden’s book is called “North Carolina Beyond the Connected Age.”  It’s out in October.  It can be pre-ordered here.