Exile on Jones Street: Carolina Comeback — not so much

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kirk rossby Kirk Ross

I guess it was a bit much to expect that on Labor Day we’d hear a least a peep out of the governor’s office about the worth of labor or working people or something like that.

But nah, not here. Not in the least unionized state in the nation, where only about 3 percent of the workforce belong to a union and far too many people think things like the 40-hour work week and the end of child-labor laws came about due to the beneficence of the silver-haired daddies of the Carolina plutocracy.

It’s not that the state’s chief executive and relentless economic cheerleader lacked for opportunities during the Labor Day weekend. For the holiday he travelled out to Hendersonville for the annual Apple Festival, which really is a swell thing in a fine little town.

It would have been so easy during his official statement on the value of the apple industry to state agriculture to mention that apples are one of those crops that still rely heavily on human labor.

Of course that might have led to someone bringing up the messy fact that the xenophobes among the governor’s pals in the legislature would sooner see that crop rot than acknowledge the importance of the laborers, many from south of here, who pick it.

So maybe it’s a good thing that he didn’t say something. The governor, after all, is no fan of organized labor and has a hard time talking about anyone who disagrees with him without taking a cheap shot.

All that said, his happy talk can be even more annoying.

Nearly every day some announcement from the state about new jobs ends up in my mailbox, sometimes it’s 20 or 30 jobs, sometimes more. What doesn’t show up in my mailbox is any acknowledgment of the reality that while all these jobs are being created, others are going away. You don’t hear about the layoffs and closings, how many restaurants, factories or other employment centers were shut down or how many people moved out of state or from a more rural region to a city to find work.

No one is eager to announce that, but it’s the reality. The state used to keep track of plant closures and layoffs. It still does, probably, in some dark corner of the commerce department, but you can no longer readily find the list as you could before this governor took office.

Before that, the state Department of Commerce used to publish a monthly list of business closings drawn from company announcements and news reports.

But the practice was discontinued in May, 2013, chalked up to budget cuts by the feds.

With a little searching you can still find a report on closings, but it’s limited to just those that are required by law under the federal Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act (WARN), which requires major employers to give notice to employers about plant closings 60 days in advance.

In August, for instance, the governor was either on hand or pleased to issue a special announcement on job creation five times. He was touting the overall addition of 411 jobs, most of them to be added over the next three years, as further evidence of the comeback thing.

But last month’s additions were eclipsed by the bad news as notices from Kellogg’s, United Airlines, KMart and others went out with an estimated combined loss of 618 jobs. So far this year, WARN notices show the loss, through permanent layoffs and closings, of 5,238 jobs.

In its annual report on the state of work in North Carolina the Budget & Tax Center put out some pretty strong evidence that for all the talk of success among the state’s leadership much of the state is still in bad shape. Labor-force decline continues in much of the state as people drop out of the labor force. Rural employment has fallen 2.7 percent since the recession ended, according to the report. And too few of what new jobs are being created are paying living wages.

The center estimates that nearly six out of ten jobs created in North Carolina since the end of the recession don’t pay high enough wages to keep people working them full-time out of poverty. No one should be patting themselves on the back for those kind of results.

By now you should realize that the much hyped Carolina Comeback is just as hollow as its slogan.