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Sticky Floors Impede Economic Mobility in North Carolina

Written by: Anita Brown-Graham

One of the ways in which economic mobility typically occurs is through advancing one’s educational status. Although our study found a clear desire for more education and training opportunities, barriers remain.



The ncIMPACT Initiative recently completed a project examining poverty in Forsyth County for the Kate B. Reynolds Charitable Trust. Our focus quickly narrowed to the related issue of economic mobility – the ability of low-income Forsyth residents to significantly change their income or wealth over their lifetimes or the generations that follow. Of course, such examinations of economic mobility are inextricably tied to measures of an economy’s inclusiveness.

At the differing levels of city, county and country, global voices are increasingly raising important questions about the adequacy of old economic productivity measures to tell us what we need to know about the inclusiveness of economies. Think tanks and other advocates increasingly point out that commonly used measures, such as Gross Domestic Product, for instance, fail to consider the inequalities that lie beneath usual measures of well-being.

We found those critiques useful as we did our work in Forsyth County. The economy is transitioning from its historical reliance on tobacco and textiles, and the county is creating an impressive number of new economy jobs. However, a significant percentage of the local labor force does not have the skills required for this new economy. ncIMPACT’s research revealed that, for too many Forsyth County residents, the barriers to jobs that pay a living wage seem insurmountable. In essence, the local economy is not inclusive.

One of the ways in which economic mobility typically occurs is through advancing one’s educational status. Although our study found a clear desire for more education and training opportunities, barriers remain. Participants express the needs that must be met for this to happen. The most common need, expressed by respondents at a rate of 60%, is affordable education supports (e.g. transportation, childcare). Developing skills for available jobs often requires formal training and education. Providing additional resources to those who need additional support for advancement is one way an economy can become more inclusive.

ncIMPACT is not the first group to notice that Forsyth County’s economic inclusion measures lag behind its economic growth and prosperity numbers. In 2017, the Brookings Institution evaluated the nation’s 100 largest metropolitan areas along three dimensions: growth, prosperity, and inclusion. Based on the indicators used and composite scores generated, the Winston-Salem metropolitan area ranked 79th for growth, 73rd for prosperity, and 85th for inclusion.

The authors of the Brookings report explain, “Inclusion indicators measure how the benefits of growth and prosperity in a metropolitan economy—specifically, changes in employment and income—are distributed among individuals. Inclusive growth enables more people to invest in their skills and to purchase more goods and services.”  Similarly, the Rockefeller Foundation recently defined an inclusive economy as one that provides expanded opportunities for a more broadly shared prosperity, especially for those facing the greatest barriers to advancing their well-being. Simply stated, an inclusive economy offers more opportunities for more people based on five interrelated characteristics:

  1. People are able to participate fully in economic life and have a meaningful say over their community’s future.
  2. True opportunities are available to enable upward mobility for all groups of people.
  3. The local economy produces enough goods and services to enable broad gains in well-being and opportunity.
  4. Individuals, communities, businesses, and governments have a sufficient degree of confidence in their future and an increased ability to predict the outcome of their economic decisions.
  5. Economic and social wealth is sustained over time, thus maintaining intergenerational well-being.

For more information on inclusive economies or ncIMPACT’s findings in Forsyth County, see

http://ncimpactsog.web.unc.edu/2019/05/the-forsyth-story-a-strategy-for-providing-a-more-inclusive-economy/

 

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