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Dismantling Barriers To Economic Mobility in North Carolina

Locke report identifies pathway to equal justice and opportunity

RALEIGH — For every North Carolinian to thrive, we must clear the pathway blocked by entrenched and historic impediments that narrow opportunity and hinder the escape from poverty. A new John Locke Foundation report from researcher Joseph Coletti urges state policymakers to help marginalized communities by peeling back bureaucratic hurdles and resisting the temptation to adopt trendy but ill-advised ideas.

In his report, Thriving In North Carolina: Justice, Opportunity, and Barriers To Economic Mobility, Coletti looks at the history of Charlotte’s efforts to address disparities for its African American residents and the lessons learned about the limits of government-led intervention.

“After decades of good intentions gone awry, it’s time to change how we think about breaking the cycle of poverty,” said Coletti, a senior fellow in fiscal studies at Locke. “Despite good intentions, government policies have made it harder to get ahead by penalizing attempts to be more self-reliant even as they have made bad situations more tolerable.”

Coletti’s vision is to mitigate the consequences of failed government actions and chart a new course that fosters each person’s innate value and abilities. Offering a seven-step path forward, his report describes a humbler role for government, a greater focus on access to opportunity, and an embrace of community.

First, keep the minimum wage from becoming a barrier to work. While the idea of increasing the minimum to $15 per hour is popular, research shows that the wealthy derive the most benefits. It is the poor, the low-skilled, and people of color who are more adversely affected by these increases.

Coletti’s second step is to roll back North Carolina’s occupational licensing regime. These requirements for burdensome schooling and fees before a person can get a job in some fields are hailed as consumer protection. In reality, they are barriers to earning a living. Coletti looks at alternatives that take safety and quality into account while easing the path to employment.

Four of Coletti’s reforms touch health care, making it easier for medical professionals to provide care and easier for patients to access care. They include freeing up nurse practitioners and dental therapists from unwieldy supervisory requirements, repealing the certificate-of-need law that limits options and keeps costs high, relaxing restrictions on the use of telehealth technology, and removing the tax advantage for employer-sponsored health insurance.

Job creators and budding entrepreneurs also receive attention in Coletti’s report. He urges policymakers to remove unnecessary barriers to start-ups. These mom-and-pops often begin as a “side hustle” from home but become ensnared by aggressive permitting and zoning regulations that can deal a death blow to the budding business. He also recommends easing burdens to finding work after a criminal conviction and addressing problems with government assistance programs that penalize marriage, work, and savings.

“It’s hard to break bad habits, and it’s a particular challenge with government policies that have failed to deliver on the promise of economic mobility. Let’s be bold. Let’s give people the opportunity they deserve,” Coletti said.

Coletti will discuss his report at Locke’s virtual Shaftesbury Society forum on Monday, May 10, at noon. The event will be live-streamed on Locke’s Facebook page and YouTube channel, and at johnlocke.org.

Read or Download the Report

Donna Martinez / Senior Writer and Editor

Donna came to the John Locke Foundation in January 2003 after freelance writing for Carolina Journal and contributing to projects for the North Carolina Education Alliance. He...