ELLIOT: A (continued) tale of two economies

In February, my colleague wrote in these pages about the divergent paths the national and North Carolina economies were taking. He spoke of the “long-term meager economic forecast and low expectations for growth” in the nation, and he praised the long strides North Carolina has taken toward economic freedom.

Recent economic news underscores the trends he discussed back then. Friday’s weak jobs report followed a Feb. 28 U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis release showing the GDP growth rate for the first quarter of 2016. Gross domestic product rose 0.5 percent, anemic at best. These lackluster telltales are stoking fears of economic contraction and even a new recession. But the more important fact is not the near-zero growth for this year so far. It is the dismal economic record over the past decade and more that weighs on so many Americans.

While the national economy averaged annual growth rates of 3.23 percent from 1947 until 2016, there are adolescents in middle school now who have not seen an annual growth rate break 3 percent in their lifetimes, much less hit that 3.23 percent average. And today’s high school seniors are not even old enough to remember a truly humming economy — 2000 is the most recent year that ranks in the top third in a ranking of growth rates for the years 1950-2015.

Meanwhile, other news released by the BEA showed that North Carolina is on a very different trajectory. North Carolina’s GDP growth since the beginning of 2013 has been a robust 13.4 percent, tops in the nation. And regionally, the latest quarterly GDP data available shows N.C. with the highest growth rate in the Southeast.

While GDP growth in current dollars is only one measure of economic health, there aren’t enough caveats and qualifications in the world to mask the fact that the state’s economy is doing great when compared to both where we were before 2013 and when compared to current national and regional trends.

Even the left-leaning Politifact.com acknowledged that Gov. Pat McCrory was correct in saying that North Carolina is No. 1 in the land. Although readers have to wait until the article’s 17th paragraph, Politifact does eventually concede that “between the first quarter of 2013 and the third quarter of 2015 (the most recent data we have), no state’s economic output grew as fast as North Carolina’s 13.4 percent rate.”

The first quarter of 2013, of course, is when McCrory replaced Gov. Bev Perdue as the state’s chief executive.

It’s no wonder that Democrats want voters’ attention to be on rock concerts and bathrooms. While it is yet to be seen whether that issue will be a winner for them, they know for sure that they don’t want the election in November to be a referendum on the economy — something that actually affects the vast majority of North Carolinians every day of their lives. They know will lose on that issue for sure, even if the state’s economic growth rate slows from a sprint to a walk between now and November.