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North Carolina's candidates - Do they know what they're getting into?

By D. G. Martin
Posted Monday, October 25, 2004

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Will the officials we elect next be ready to lead North Carolina for the next few years?

These folks have no idea about what they are getting into.

If their campaign materials, their debates and their TV ads are any indication, these folks have no idea about what they are getting into. Most of the rest of us also have an incomplete idea of the enormous challenges our state faces over the next 20 years.

A couple of years ago the North Carolina Progress Board assembled a report that listed hundreds of matters that require governmental attention if our state is to move forward.

Too bad our candidates have not been leading a statewide discussion of these challenges. Nevertheless, once the election is over, these hard facts will confront them face to face.

Here are just a few of them, lifted from the Progress Board's report.

Education:

*85% of all jobs by 2010 will require 14 or more years of education, but North Carolina ranks only 34th in college going rates among the 50 states.

*Only 3 states have lower high school completion rates than North Carolina.

*The nonwhite population in the schools is projected to outnumber the white population later this century, yet 85% of the teaching force is white.

*North Carolina needs 10,000 teachers each year for the growing student population and to replace the teachers who leave.

Jobs:

*60% of layoffs in a recent year were in rural areas even though rural areas possessed only 41% of total jobs.

*52% of North Carolina adults scored at the lowest two levels of literary proficiency.

*Low-skill manufacturing jobs are declining. North Carolina lost more than 110,000 jobs in textile and apparel manufacturing alone in the 1990s.

*The share of workers to receive defined-benefit pension plans has fallen from 30% to 20% over the past 15 years.

Environment:

*Ground-level ozone, which triggers asthma and other respiratory illnesses, has been on the increase since 1995, placing North Carolina among the least healthy states in terms of air quality.

*Non-point source pollution--such as runoff from roads and agricultural lands--presents a critical challenge in maintaining the quality of streams, rivers, and estuaries over the next 20 years. Meanwhile, both pollution and dwindling aquifers pose problems for ground water supplies.

*In a recent year, North Carolina had the country's 5th highest number of unhealthy air days.

*Of the most ozone-polluted metropolitan areas in the nation, Charlotte ranked 8th and Raleigh-Durham ranked 11th.

*About 55,000 acres of shellfish beds are closed to harvesting each year, more than 90% of these closures due to storm water runoff.

Economy:

*In terms of short-term economic growth (measured by employment, personal income, and population), North Carolina fell from a national ranking of 6th in 1997 to 15th in 1998 and to 22nd in 2000.

*26 counties in North Carolina had a poverty rate of at least 18% continuously from 1980 to 1999.

*From 1980-1998, North Carolina's average income increased by 39.5% for the wealthiest 1/5 of households, but by only 0.1% for the poorest 1/5 of households.

Transportation:

*NC needs an estimated $1 billion per year in new highway construction and an additional $300 million per year to meet highway maintenance standards.

Poverty:

*28% of all North Carolinians have incomes below 200% of the federal poverty level. This 200% level approximates a living income standard.

*A disproportionate number of our most vulnerable citizens -- 38.4% of all children and 33% of seniors -- live in households below 200% of the federal poverty level.

Health Care:

*1.5 million North Carolinians (15.5%) lack health insurance; another 1 million are underinsured.

*2/3 of North Carolina's preventable deaths (and a $6 billion annual drain on the economy) stem from three factors: tobacco, poor nutrition, and lack of physical activity.

*56% of adult North Carolinians are overweight and 19.8% are obese.

Race relations:

*Charlotte scored next to last out of 40 metropolitan communities across the nation on a measure of interracial trust.

*Minorities are represented in the state's prisons at more than twice their proportion of the overall population.

*Among people 65 and older, women, and lower-income citizens, a majority indicated they did not feel safe going out at night.

Housing:

*30% of North Carolina renters cannot afford the fair-market rent for a one-bedroom home.

*At least 44,000 North Carolinians are homeless (1/4 of them are children, most younger than 5).

If you-or the soon-to-be elected officials-want to see the Progress Board's complete list, check their web site.

**********************************

D.G. Martin is the author of "Interstate Eateries" a handbook of home cooking places near North Carolina's interstate highways-available through Our State Magazine (800-948-1409 or www.ourstate.com). He is the host of UNC-TV's North Carolina Bookwatch, which airs on Sundays at 5:00 p.m. This week's (October 31) guest is Steven Sherrill, author of "The Minotaur Takes a Cigarette Break" talking about his new book, "Visits from the Drowned Girl."

Programs coming up:

October 31: Steven Sherrill, Visits from the Drowned Girl

November 7: Carl Ernst, Following Muhammad

November 14: John May, Poe & Fanny

November 21: Walter Turner, Paving Tobacco Road

 
Related info:
Progress Board
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North Carolina's candidates - Do they know what they're getting into?

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