12-2-2019 – Better numbers but worse ranking

Posted on: December 2nd, 2019 by admin

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December 1, 2019

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By Guy Lucas
guylucas@newstopicnews.com

 

Dec 01, 2019 12:00 AM

 

Caldwell County recorded the fifth largest increase in the state in median household income, yet it dropped back into the ranks of North Carolina’s most economically distressed counties in a new state report.

 

The county’s median household income rose by $5,632 from 2016 to 2017, the most recent year the figure was available, to $44,798, according to the N.C. Department of Commerce. That’s an increase of 14.4% and ranks as the 46th lowest household income in the state, a vast improvement from 29th lowest in last year’s report.

 

In dollar terms, only four counties saw income rise more: Moore, $8,236; Lincoln, $6,328; Clay, $6,103; and Durham, $5,790.

 

But because Caldwell’s unemployment rate increased relative to the previous year, its population growth slowed slightly and it showed less growth in its property tax base than many other counties, Caldwell ranked as the 40th most economically distressed of the state’s 100 counties, according to the N.C. Department of Commerce.

 

The 40 most distressed are labeled as Tier 1. The designation can help them get certain grants and other aid. The 20 counties that are best off are Tier 3.

 

Last year Caldwell ranked as 43rd most distressed and fell into Tier 2, but Caldwell has teetered around the Tier 1 cutoff in recent years, rising to Tier 2 six years ago, then dropping back to Tier 1, rising out of it again for two years, now dropping back in.

 

Deborah Murray, the executive director of the Caldwell County Economic Development Commission, pinned the county’s drop to Tier 1 on the shortage of desirable housing, particularly apartments, for workers who have been filling the growing number of jobs in the county.

 

“While it is very disappointing to be dropped back into Tier 1, I am not at all disappointed with Caldwell’s numbers. The reason for the drop was that we had no population gain,” she said. “We have not had any increase in housing inventory, so it isn’t a surprise that we did not gain population. We have created significant new and better paying jobs, but a growing number of those are filled by folks who live outside the county.”

 

The increase in Caldwell’s unemployment rate has been slight, and the overall rate has held near full employment levels, she said.

 

And the county’s tax base per capita — the dollar value of property divided by the population — grew by 1.5%, “which is neither weak nor strong,” Murray said. “When Caldwell has its (countywide property) revaluation in 2021 that number will improve significantly.”

 

“The state takes these four measurements and assigns the ranking accordingly. We know housing is an issue and are working hard to create more of it. This report confirms that housing is and should be a priority,” she said.

 

Caldwell dropped because four counties that also have been teetering around the margin of Tier 1 saw relatively better growth in more categories as measured by the state, though looking at those numbers illustrates problems with the rankings.

 

Cleveland County went from 35th most distressed last year to 41st, one place better than Caldwell, due largely to population growth and improvement in the unemployment rate. It’s median household income of $39,911 lags Caldwell significantly, though, and increased less than $800 from the previous year.

 

Hoke County went from 38th last year to 42nd, a change that the Commerce Department attributed to its median income improving “significantly,” but that increase was $4,773, far less than Caldwell’s. Hoke’s unemployment rate also is higher than Caldwell’s and slightly worsened from last year’s report, going from 5.13% to 5.14.

 

Gates County went from 36th to 52nd because of improvement in its property tax base, population growth and income — but its property tax base per capita is lower than Caldwell’s and its increase in income, $4,409, was less than Caldwell’s. It’s population increased 2.3%, but it’s a tiny county — fewer than 13,000 people — so the actual numerical increase in Gates County’s population was about half as much as Caldwell’s population increased over the same period.

 

And Surry County went from 34th to 50th because of improvements in three of the four categories — but its median household income and property tax base both are lower than Caldwell’s, and its population growth of 0.96% from 2014 to 2017 both was barely higher than Caldwell’s 0.65% and followed a period of population decline in last year’s report.

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