The urban-rural gap

The difference in economic growth between urban and rural counties in North Carolina has been an issue for decades. Whether there’s been any progress in reducing the differences in recent years depends, says N.C. State University economist Mike Walden, on how you define progress.

“If we look at urban counties in North Carolina and rural counties in North Carolina, there are still big differences. One of the areas where we’ve seen improvements is in factors that public policy can impact. For example, spending on schools has become much closer for urban areas, urban schools, and rural schools.

“Also spending on roads has become much closer. In fact, it’s kind of gone the other way. The relatively more we’re spending on roads has been done in rural counties in recent years than on urban counties.

“However, if you look at what workers earn you still see a big gap, and, unfortunately, in some sense it’s become bigger for urban and rural counties. That is to say that a typical worker in an urban county is going to earn much more than a worker in a rural county, and that difference has grown.

“Now some people … actually say this is due to information technology. People thought that information technology was sort of level the playing field between urban and rural counties. It perhaps has gone the other way in the sense that information technology, which allows us to reach more people, actually has resulted in people finding urban locations more beneficial.”

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