Christensen: It might not be good to follow the South Carolina model

rchristensen@newsobserver.comFebruary 25, 2014 

South Carolina is, in many ways, a wonderful state. I have spent countless vacations there. I know, like and admire many South Carolina natives. There are undoubtedly many things Tar Heels can learn from the Palmetto State.


South Carolina is not Shangri-la.

I mention this because it seems to have become common currency among some Republican leaders that the Tar Heel state needs to adopt the South Carolina model. That is because South Carolina is a more conservative, Republican-leaning state and has based its industrial policy more on a low tax strategy than North Carolina.

But has the South Carolina strategy produced better results?

The two don’t compare

When you compare North Carolina and South Carolina by objective measures, our state comes out better.

It should be kept in mind that South Carolina (4.7 million people) is much smaller than North Carolina (9.7 million people). Cary is the seventh-largest town in North Carolina. If it was moved south of the border, Cary would be the largest city in South Carolina.

When Politico, the Washington-based political journal, did a state-by-state comparison using objective measures, North Carolina finished 40th overall, just ahead of Nevada. South Carolina finished 46th, just ahead of Alabama.

In per-capita income, North Carolina residents earned an average of $25,285 (37th in the nation), while a South Carolina resident earned $23,906 (43rd), according to Politico.

North Carolina has a lower poverty rate (16.8 percent) and a higher high school graduation rate (84.5 percent) than South Carolina, where the poverty rate is 17.6 percent and the graduation rate is 84 percent.

Life expectancy in North Carolina is 77.8 years compared with 77 in South Carolina.

In eighth-grade math scores, North Carolina ranked 25th in the country, while South Carolina ranked 33rd. In eighth-grade reading scores, North Carolina ranked 35th, and South Carolina was 41st.

Of Newsweek Magazine’s list of the top 1,000 high schools in the country, 20 were in North Carolina. Three were in South Carolina.

North Carolina has a higher percentage of people, 4.9 percent, employed in science, technology, engineering and mathematics than does South Carolina, which had 4.3 percent.

Of U.S. News & World Report’s top-rated universities, North Carolina had seven on the list, including Duke, Wake Forest and UNC-Chapel Hill. South Carolina had two.

When Washington Monthly rated the 50 best community colleges in the U.S., four were in North Carolina, and just one was in South Carolina.

North Carolina also has a much lower crime rate, ranked 28th, than South Carolina, which ranked 46th.

Sometimes S.C. fares better

There are a few areas where South Carolina does better than North Carolina.

South Carolina has a higher level of homeownership at 69.5 percent than North Carolina at 67.1 percent. A lower percentage of South Carolinians are obese (27.9 percent) than in North Carolina, where 28.9 percent are obese.

South Carolina also has less unemployment, with a 6.6 percent rate in December compared with 6.9 percent rate for North Carolina.

The statistic that conservatives like the most is taxes. In 2010, North Carolina had a state-local tax burden of 9.9 percent that was the 17th-highest in the nation, according the Tax Foundation, a conservative leaning group in Washington, D.C. That compared with South Carolina, which had an 8.4 percent tax burden and had the 41st highest tax burden.

That was before the latest round of tax cuts, which is likely to change North Carolina’s ranking.

Comparing states is far more complicated than just looking at state-level spending and tax policy. There are historic factors involved, including patterns of poverty and race.

But as North Carolina seems to be pursuing the South Carolina model, we should remember the old adage: You get what you pay for.

Christensen: 919-829-4532 or

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