The folks currently running things in North Carolina keep touting what they describe as the Carolina Comeback, unemployed workers flocking to all the jobs they say have been created by the policies of the General Assembly and the McCrory Administration.
The Carolina Comebackers credit everything from tax cuts for the wealthy to weakening environmental regulations as responsible for the alleged boom in the state economy.
What they cite most often are the draconian cuts to unemployment benefits made last year and the decision not to provide a federally funded extension of emergency benefits to long-term unemployed workers.
McCrory can’t seem to give a media interview without boasting about how his administration slashed benefits and people found jobs as a result and he points to the significant drop in the state unemployment rate as proof that his policies are working.
It’s ridiculous of course. The unemployment rate is not dropping because people are finding jobs. It’s falling primarily because many people have been unable to find work and have simply given up looking, dropping out of the labor force and no longer being counted when the unemployment rate is calculated.
The cynical view held by McCrory and legislative leaders seems to be that people won’t really look for work if they are receiving some small assistance to help them feed their families. Once unemployment is cut off the theory goes, people will find a job.
Not only is that inaccurate and offensive, it also doesn’t take into account the thousands of people who simply cannot afford to work because they can’t come up with the money to pay for child care for their sons or daughters.
The state has a child care subsidy program designed to help, but as of January there were 41,134 children on the waiting list for the assistance.
Parents can receive the subsidy if they meet income requirements and if they are working, looking for work, or going back to school to develop skills to find a job. And the subsidy does not pay anywhere the full cost of child care.
Parents who qualify for the subsidy are still required to spend as much as 8 to 10 percent of their income on child care but at least it gives them a chance to be able to afford to go back to work or school.
For the parents of the more than 41,000 children currently languishing on the waiting list, there are few options. The average annual cost of child care in North Carolina is more than $8,000 a year. That is more than half the annual salary of a full time minimum wage worker.
These are people trapped, locked out of the workforce by the inability to find affordable care for their children so they can go to a job every day.
In some ways the child care subsidy waiting list is a test of Gov. McCrory’s sincerity in his claims about people looking for work.
These are parents who have already demonstrated they are looking for a job or training for work or scrambling to keep the job they have. They simply cannot afford to pay for child care with the wages they earn.
If McCrory and legislative leaders are serious about the economic recovery they boast about, they will find the funding in this year’s legislative session to eliminate the waiting list for a child care subsidy and allow thousands of parents to enter the workforce when jobs are available or go back to school to learn new skills.
It’s not much of a comeback if thousands of people are locked out of participating.
Chris Fitzsimon is executive director of N.C. Policy Watch.