Nationally the number of people employed in middle-wage jobs rose by 6 percent between 2001 and 2015. But the numbers in North Carolina went in the other direction.
The state experienced a decline in middle-wage jobs accompanied by a large increase in both high and low-paying jobs. The hollowing-out of the middle-earning group was most stark in the mountain, piedmont and coastal plain sections of the state, according to a new research paper by Michael Walden.
Host Frank Stasio talks with Walden, professor of agricultural and resource economics at North Carolina State University, about North Carolina’s loss of middle-wage jobs and what the shifting employment dynamics portend for the state.
On regional job patterns within North Carolina:
I did find what I categorize as extreme hollowing-out [in] several regions. Most of them were more rural in nature, [and they] follow the same pattern of increases at the two ends and declines in the middle. But it was just more exacerbated. And I think this makes sense if you drive around North Carolina. If you’re aware of what’s happened with the North Carolina economy in the last 20 or 30 years. Particularly with the loss of manufacturing jobs – which is classified in my classification system as a middle-paying industry … We’ve lost roughly 300,000 textile and apparel jobs. We lost cigarette manufacturing jobs. We’ve lost furniture jobs as well as others in those middle-paying areas. And a lot of those [are] in rural and mountainous small-town places ... Many of those small town and rural areas, they really don’t have the resources to cope with that situation. So I think that was one of the more daunting findings that I looked at.
On the impact of middle-wage job losses:
On what the state could do to address the loss of middle-wage jobs:
We’ve got to recognize there’s an issue. And we do have an issue of job creation – where jobs are being created, what kind of training you need for those jobs. Number two, I think what the state needs to do a little better, or academicians need to do a little better, is more minutely track where jobs are being created and where jobs are not being created. And then point three is, I think this is going to put a lot of pressure, Frank, on our institutions of higher learning – community colleges, four-year universities. Because they’re going to have to respond quickly, I think, to the changing jobs that are in demand and hopefully new jobs being created – move resources around, which is not easy at a university level, and work more closely with businesses.