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Hill Briefing on Social and Economic Consequences of Job Loss Draws Crowd

by Johanna Ebner, Public Information Office

Research sociologist Leslie Hossfeld, University of North Carolina-Pembroke, along with other community leaders from Robeson County, North Carolina, discussed the rate and impact of job loss in that rural county at a congressional briefing on March 30 on Capitol Hill. The briefing was organized by the Center for Community Action (CCA), a community-based nonprofit organization in Lumberton, NC, working with other community and institutional agents to develop and implement proactive strategies to address the massive job loss that has occurred in Robeson County during the last 10 years.

Hossfeld, a recipient of a 2004 ASA Community Action Research Initiative (CARI) grant, along with Mac Legerton, Executive Director of CCA, and more than 150 Robeson County politicians, business leaders, and unemployed individuals traveled from Lumberton, NC, to Washington and participated in the congressional briefing followed by a press conference. At the briefing, which included seven participating U.S. House members and other policymakers, Hossfeld reported on a study of the impact of the precipitous job loss on the local economy and the need for business development. Legerton included a presentation on federal policy recommendations to save rural jobs and rebuild rural counties in America hit hard by job losses.

The Robeson County participants had converged on Washington for a one-day blitz of visits to several members of Congress and their staff in order to seek government support and assistance for rural economic development. The briefing followed these visits and was co-sponsored by the ASA and the co-chairs of the Congressional Rural Caucus Jobs and Economic Development Task Force: U.S. Representatives Mike McIntyre (D-NC), whose district includes Robeson County, and Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV).

Counted among the nation’s 250 poorest counties, Robeson County has lost more than 10,000 manufacturing jobs in the last 10 years; it had previously employed nearly 18,000 people in manufacturing jobs. This translates to an estimated loss of $115 million in wages, according to Hossfeld, but the ripple effect is even greater—$674 million decline in regional household income. With this rural county’s population at 123,000, its per capita income stands at $13,224. Unemployment insurance payments rose from $8 million in 1994 to $20 million in 2001, while Robeson’s poverty rate is at nearly 33 percent. North Carolina leads the nation in the percentage of manufacturing jobs lost since 2000, with the 162,800 jobs representing nearly 22 percent. The county is also the most ethnically diverse rural county in America.

“Our jewels are our diverse people and the diversity of our locally-owned and operated businesses,” said Legerton. “Our rural people and small business owners and workers have withstood the major shifts in economic policy throughout U.S. history and remain the bedrock of our economy.” He stressed that the diversity and strength of the community is its best investment in its mixed economy.

CCA includes grassroots and professional leaders working with local, state, and federal officials and agencies to develop to develop dialogue on responsible and creative policies. They advocate for policies that will protect and promote U.S. jobs and support the development of locally owned small businesses, jobs creation, and a more sustainable economy for the future of Robeson County. This briefing was part of that educational process. The focus of their policy recommendations, based on the principles of sustainable development, was on capital reinvestment and incentive programs for rural development.

Hossfeld plans to use her ASA CARI grant to continue work with CCA and partner organizations in Robeson County and in the state of North Carolina to organize a “Jobs for the Future” project as a major component of CCA’s Sustainable Communities Program. The goals include (1) developing policy initiatives and efforts that attract major public and private grants and loans for economic development and reconstruction in the county; and (2) expand minority owned businesses and employment in the county to create more equitable wealth and income across families and communities of color. Hossfeld’s grant will assist her in doing further research on the impact of job loss on the county and on methods to redress the problem by influencing policy and economic development.