Aiding and sustaining U.S. workers

This Labor Day’s commemoration comes with some sobering news for North Carolina from the N.C. Justice Center. In a report released today, the progressive research and advocacy group details the Tar Heel state’s troubling pattern of recovery in which “many groups of workers in North Carolina continue to experience a recession-like shortage of jobs, as well as the pernicious effects of a boom in low-wage work.

“Taken together, the uneven recovery and growth in jobs that pay less than what it takes for families to make ends meet are splitting North Carolina into two states economically depending on where workers live and their background.”

Two North Carolinas? One prospering and one struggling? That’s a troubling assessment that demands public policies and actions to reverse.

The Center’s annual report, “The State of Working North Carolina,” points out that the Great Recession left many N.C. workers in a labor market with too few jobs as well as jobs that don’t pay a living wage. The state’s workforce is rapidly changing, becoming younger and more ethnically diverse, and many aren’t being educated or trained for jobs that will pay enough to support themselves or their families.

Noted Alexandra Sirota, director of the Center’s Budget & Tax Center: “An equity-driven growth model is the only way forward to fixing North Carolina’s broken economic model and building a more robust economy.”

The center and other advocates argue persuasively for increasing the minimum wage, expanding access to paid leave and health insurance, reinstating the state Earned Income Tax Credit, providing relevant workforce skills training in communities of color, and investing more in public education.

The editorial board has advocated for many of the same things. We especially hope N.C. lawmakers will revisit their unwise and mean-spirited decision to get rid of the EITC earlier this year. It was a baffling change that goes against conservative principles of encouraging work.

Labor Day as a holiday grew out of protests from workers over low pay and working conditions in the 1800s. Many of those complaints are being echoed today by workers still struggling from the long recession. Hundreds of thousands remain jobless nationwide, and even more remain underemployed – working for wages that can’t support a family or provide for basic needs.

Here in Charlotte-Mecklenburg, one of North Carolina’s most prosperous regions, nearly 60 percent of the occupations pay average wages below $35,000. That’s below the living income standard for a family with one adult and one child. Across the state, almost six of every 10 new jobs created since the end of the recession are in industries that pay poverty wages, the Justice Center found.

America’s strength and prosperity lie with the American worker. We should commit individually and as a state and a country to do more to protect and sustain this great asset.