LAURINBURG — A report released last month by the N.C. Justice Center’s Budget and Tax Center suggests that Scotland County has yet to recover from the Great Recession.
The center’s county economic snapshots compile data from the N.C. Department of Public Instruction and N.C. Division of Social Services along with U.S. Census Bureau demographic figures and other statistics to gauge how well individual counties are faring across “key indicators of economic well-being and opportunity.”
As of December, there were 1,158 people seeking employment in Scotland County, and 550 job openings. Overall, there were 2,255 fewer employed people in the county than there were at the beginning of the recession in 2007.
According to County Manager Kevin Patterson, who said that Scotland County is keeping pace with the regional rate of economic recovery, that reflects a change the nature of the jobs available in the county.
“When I go back in and talk with the industries, the amount that is being produced in Scotland County is back where it used to be,” he said. “Unfortunately, we’re doing that with fewer people than ever before and that’s the shift from manual to advanced manufacturing.”
Scotland County was already struggling with the loss of major employers as the nation entered the recession years of 2008 and 2009. While the economy may not have been on a stratospheric rise since, Patterson noted steady gains over the last five years.
“With the types of jobs we’ve been able to bring in, the number of people who are significantly underemployed have gone down,” he said. “There’s always going to be demand for more jobs and a lot of people want better jobs, but a lot of your skilled labor has jobs and industries now are actually looking for people on a regular basis. We have not had significant layoffs in five years now.”
Between 2007 and 2011, few of the industrial projects to consider Scotland County ever came to fruition in any location. Now Patterson, as interim economic development director, is working on six active prospects and a different industry has either located or expanded in Scotland County every year since.
“Scotland County has a good name with our state partners and our state developers; the challenges that we’re facing are one of the reasons they want to work with us as much as they can,” he said. “We really do have a great deal of opportunities here that we’re working on.”
In December, 11,463 of the county’s residents received assistance through SNAP, or food stamp, program. According to the snapshot, 749 Scotland County residents stand to lose those benefits with the state’s reinstatement of a three-month time limit for non-disabled childless adults.
Also in December, 11,257 people in the county were eligible for Medicaid — an increase of 12 percent since December 2007 when the recession began. The snapshot suggests that 1,309 Scotland County residents would benefit from Medicaid expansion, delivering $39.7 million in economic benefits to the county.
The county’s poverty rate of 28.9 percent in 2014 had fallen from 34.1 percent in 2013. More than half of the county’s residents from 2010 to 2014 had incomes under twice the federal poverty level.
The snapshot also pointed out the county’s level of income inequality, with an average income among the richest 5 percent of households 26 times greater than that of the poorest 20 percent.
The county’s hourly median wage in 2015 was $13.93 — 89 percent of the state median — and had grown 52 cents since 2009. The snapshot calculated $20.39 as a livable wage in Scotland County for a family of three.
The four-year high school graduation rate rose from 78.3 percent in 2013-2014 to 81.8 percent in 2014-2015.
Mary Katherine Murphy can be reached at 910-506-3169.