Making a better future for the next generation in North Carolina.

North Carolina’s Secret Revealed! Be First With Business By Being Last With Workers

Sep 13, 2023 | Economic Development, Economy, Future, North Carolina, Well-being | 0 comments

How can it be that in the same month – July 2023 — CNBC rated North Carolina the country’s top state for business and Oxfam rated it the worst state to work in? Is one of them wrong? Is it a fluke? Or does it make perfect sense? What does that mean for the next generation of North Carolinians?

The interesting thing is that CNBC does not necessarily disagree with Oxfam’s evaluation of working life in NC. CNBC’s profile page for North Carolina provides ratings for ten factors. For the two that relate to working life, they give NC an A+ for Workforce and a D+ for Life, Health, and Inclusion. When you dig deeper you find that Workforce relates to employer-oriented values: a good supply of qualified workers, worker training programs, right-to-work laws (to keep unions at bay), and worker productivity. Life, Health & Inclusion relates to livability factors (like crime rates, environmental quality, and health care), worker protections, programs for inclusion, laws against discrimination, affordable childcare, and protection of reproductive rights.

Does the quality of work life matter?

When you look at CNBC rating North Carolina as the top state for business while giving it a D+ on Life, Health & Inclusion, it makes you wonder if this is “a feature, not a bug” — as they say in Silicon Valley — for business-friendly states. Maybe the two things naturally go together in the USA. If that is just the way things are in the Old North State, the mystery is why the people stand for it.

About  4% of people in North Carolina’s workforce are business owners who hire others. They will probably be happy that NC is the top state for business. About 14% are self-employed individuals who operate as businesses. They are probably indifferent. That leaves 82% who are employees, not owners. I would guess they care a lot more about their state’s quality of working life than its business-friendly attitude. 82% in the workforce – and their families – sounds like a pretty big majority.

Does North Carolina deserve its D+ rating?

This is where the Oxfam ratings on best and worse states to work in can provide some insight. Their criteria are not the same as CNBC’s Life, Health & Inclusion, but they overlap. Oxfam focuses exclusively on state policies that protect workers; CNBC focuses on a mix of state policy and social indicators. They both point in the same direction.

I thought it would be helpful to show all of Oxfam’s findings for the employment policies of North Carolina in comparison with California – Oxfam’s highest ranked state – and Michigan, which is a middle ranked state. If your child or grandchild found their career in the 82% of the workforce who are employees, how do you think they would feel about these policies? “P” stands for partial.

I was in business at the executive level for 40 years and I don’t know what some of these mean. I can understand enough of them, though, to draw the conclusion that I would have a lot more protection for my well-being as an employee in California than in North Carolina.

How will these states trend in the future?

Do you need to keep interference by state regulation and unions at a low level to create prosperity in a state? Figures from the last five years would indicate the answer is no. California’s economy has grown at the rate of 2.9% per year and its number of businesses has grown 3.9% per year between 2017 and 2022. In contrast, North Carolina’s economy has grown at a rate of only 1.8% and its number of businesses by 3.2%. Maybe it’s possible to be worker friendly and grow prosperity at the same time.

California has its problems, of course. The cost of living is high. Housing is in short supply. It’s got droughts, floods, and forest fires. In the last five years, it has been losing population at the rate of 0.1% per year while North Carolina has been gaining at the rate of 0.7%. On the issue of having good protections for employees and still attracting business, though, it seems to be doing just fine.

Can North Carolina improve as a good place to work in the future?

Oxfam makes a good case that improving on their measures could make a positive difference for the next generation of North Carolinians. In a correlation study between their index and measures of well-being, they found that for every 10 points a state’s score increased, there was:

• $3,132 increase in median household income

• 0.5% decrease in households in poverty

• $5,150 increase in GDP per capita

• 0.5% decrease in food scarcity

• 1.6% increase in unionization rates

• 0.336 reduction of infant deaths per 1,000 births

Our neighboring state, Virginia, was able to move up in Oxfam’s rankings from last place in 2018 to 22nd place in 2022. According to their report this was due to “…hugely productive legislative sessions in the state, where the minimum wage increased, a domestic workers bill of rights passed, protections against sexual harassment increased, and…the state expanded accommodations for pregnant workers.” If Virginia can do it, North Carolina should be able to as well. Let’s tell our legislators we want them to make North Carolina a better state for the 82%.


Organizations advocating for better worker protections in North Carolina

North Carolina Justice Center

Their Workers’ Rights Project appears to be right on target for these issues.

National Employment Law Project

A national organization, but sometimes helps on North Carolina issues.


Send a copy of this article to your legislator at Find Your Legislators and add your personal opinions.



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