2017-08-16 / Editorial

Legislature must find a way to bridge the state’s cultural divide

Rural Americans feel “trapped” in their communities, stuck in unfavorable financial situations but unable, for both practical and lifestyle reasons, to move to more economically vibrant areas – so says a fascinating article in the Aug. 3 edition of The Wall Street Journal. While the story does not mention North Carolina, its message is one our political leaders should consider.

When faced with a sluggish local economy, Americans have always packed up and moved to find more opportunity – think the great migrations, westward in the 1800s and again during the Depression. Mobility has stalled for many practical reasons and a new one – the cultural divide.

The practical reasons involve higher living costs, state licensing rules and financial support networks.

The cultural divide has created an additional wayof life barrier.

The Journal told stories of rural Americans who tried to attend college or take jobs in more prosperous and more densely populated areas only to find they could not handle the different social and political values.

We often think of our cultural divide as something cooked up by political opportunists who use it for partisan advantage. But The Journal says it runs far deeper.

We have a divide where rural folks won’t move to where the jobs are and that leaves city employers struggling to find enough workers. This isn’t healthy for the economy.

It’s also not healthy for the nation’s political life. National trust, according to social polling, is at an all-time low. We have been convinced that we cannot trust each other.

Politicians have two challenges ahead. The first is to stop their divisive politics. Waging a culture war against those segments of the population that oppose you is not helpful.

The second challenge is to boost the economies of rural areas. It appears that the current legislative strategy for reducing the urban-rural prosperity divide is to bring cities’ economies down.

That’s not helpful. North Carolina needs a strategy for elevating rural economies so that the people who live in rural areas and small towns, and who want to stay in those places, can do so.

Paul O’Connor has covered state government for 39 years.

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