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Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Is the Carolina Comeback real? It depends on who you ask.

Posted by on Tue, Dec 22, 2015 at 11:07 AM

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Ah, the Carolina Comeback, Gov. Pat McCrory’s alliterative, ambitious nomenclature for his aspirations for the post-Recession North Carolina economy.

For some, the Carolina Comeback is a fairytale that’s never actually existed. For others, we’re smack dab in the middle of the comeback experience, and its fruition can be fully realized only when we vote to give McCrory another term in the governor’s office.

Last week, those lefties over the North Carolina Budget and Tax Center’s Prosperity Watch blog released a short report lamenting the state’s “little economic progress in 2015” according to official economic data. In November, the state unemployment rate was 5.7 percent, up two tenths of a percentage point from this time last year, and above the national average which has come down to 5 percent.

Other data trends include almost no wage growth in North Carolina in 2015, and almost 43,000 more North Carolinians looking for work than before the Recession, a current total of 270,000 people. The report says the gap between average weekly wages in the state and nationally has grown from $55 before the Great Recession to $80 in November. In September, 57.6 percent of North Carolinians were employed, leaving the state “well below the level of employment that was commonplace before the Great Recession,” which peaked at about 63 percent in the mid-2000s.

“The North Carolina economy is winding up 2015 much as it began, alive but not kicking,” said Patrick McHugh, an economic analyst at the Budget & Tax Center, a project of the NC Justice Center. “North Carolina is squandering this growth cycle. We’ve had more than a half-decade of economic expansion, and wages still aren’t growing appreciably: that’s not a good sign.”

But hold on, says John Hood, chairman of the probably-conservative John Locke Foundation, writing for the Carolina Journal online; the Carolina Comeback is “very real.”

North Carolina has outperformed most states on most measures of economic growth ever since the passage of McCrory’s first budget, tax cuts, regulatory reforms, and other conservative policies in 2013. These measures come from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics and the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis. They are not Republican concoctions. They are products of the Obama administration. And they are highly inconvenient for North Carolina Democrats and liberals.

Hood’s data says job creation is up by 234,000 net new jobs since mid-2013, a growth rate of 5.2 percent, higher than the 4.9 percent national average. Also, income growth at a per capita rate of 3.6 percent since 2013, and median household income both, grew at rates higher than the national average. And, from mid-2013 to mid-2015, the state’s GDP posted an annual inflation-adjusted growth rate of 3.2 percent, the 12th-highest GDP growth rate—“the broadest measure of the economy—” in the country.

Hood, who reports directly to conservative kingpin Art Pope, says the unemployment rates that "Carolina Comeback deniers tend to clutch desperately at” are derived from “smaller and less reliable surveys than those producing the other measures.” Given the “numerical noise,” he says, North Carolina’s 5.7 percent rate is basically indistinguishable from the national unemployment rate. (Hood also arrives at a different, higher workforce participation rate of 61.1 percent).

So what’s the actual problem in North Carolina, where the economy is kind of doing well but, Hood concedes, not really all that awesomely? If you guessed the president, you’re right.

No governor or legislature can fully offset the effects of the poor decisions made at the national level. America as a whole had had a lackluster recovery since the end of the Great Recession. It is simply incoherent for politicians and analysts who label Barack Obama’s economic record as good to attack Pat McCrory’s economic record as bad.

TL;DR: Is the Carolina Comeback real?: Sure, but it’s meh at best.

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