An inhospitable working environment

by | Feb 22, 2023 | Editor's Blog | 11 comments

I grew up the son of a state employee. My father served as a district court and superior court judge. In exchange, he received a steady salary, good health insurance, and a generous pension program. He could have made more money in the private sector as an attorney, but the benefits helped offset the difference and made the job a bit more attractive. 

After twelve years of Republican governance, state employees have seen their benefits cut and their pay frozen. Our entry-level teachers are among the lowest paid in the country. State employees are no longer eligible for health insurance as part of their retirement packages. Working conditions have deteriorated as the GOP cut funding for programs across the board. Now, we’re facing staff shortages for vital services in a tough labor market and the GOP has left government jobs less competitive

When Republicans took control of state government after the 2010 election, they went about trying to downsize government while giving huge tax cuts to the richest citizens. They successfully cut the budgets of our state university system and our public schools. We now rank near the bottom in per pupil pay. Teachers regularly pay for school supplies out of their meager salaries. Consequently, teacher vacancies are up more than 50% since last year.

In districts across the state, schools can’t find bus drivers, making access to school difficult for students of working families. Orange County recently raised pay to $20 an hour for drivers. That may help with the shortage, but, as of right now, every day we get a message about which routes will not be running and which ones will late. 

Some of the problem is a lack of workers. People retired after the pandemic and the rapid growth in our economy has made jobs competitive. Our low unemployment rate indicates that workers have more choice about where to work. They aren’t choosing state government. 

Of course, we could try to increase in-migration, but that’s not on the GOP’s radar. They’re trying to keep people out of the state, not encourage them to move here. The GOP base is far more concerned with closing our Southern border than with keeping buses rolling and prisons safe. Unfortunately, the GOP leadership panders to them instead of leading the state and nation. 

Much of what Republicans did to our state when they took control had long-term consequences as they slashed programs that were working and shifted the tax burden from the wealthy and corporations to the middle class. We’re now paying for their actions. They like to take credit for North Carolina’s rapid growth, but the state and it’s economy grew faster in the first decade of this century when Democrats were in control than it did during the second decade when Republicans ruled.

The GOP’s best talking point is about the budget surplus and the fat rainy day fund. But that money comes at a price and the bill has come due. We can’t staff our services. Our public schools are struggling. Our kids are in the midst of a public health crisis and we don’t have the counselors and support staff to deal with it.    

For decades, North Carolina was known as a good government state. We kept our taxes low, but relatively progressive. We had good roads, great universities, and better than average public schools. And we took care of our employees. Today, teachers are leaving the profession because of difficult working conditions and low pay. Our universities have been overly politicized and seen their budgets slashed. The department of transportation has vacancies 32% above 2019 rate and they’re losing employees to retailers and the service industry. 

Republicans came into office demonizing state employees and teachers. They slashed benefits and froze pay. They created an inhospitable working environment that has repercussions today. Instead of providing stability that includes job security and long-term benefits, they’ve left people wary of years without pay raises and uncertain benefit packages. Now, they can’t find the people fill the positions needed to staff a rapidly growing state. Republicans bear a significant responsibility for that problem. 


  1. cocodog

    Tom, your analyses of the issues facing NC State schools and employees is chillingly accurate. There is talk that NC schools will run out of money in a few months, meaning teachers will be expected to work for nothing until something can be “worked out” . Teachers have debts living expenses and families like everybody else. I suppose their debtors will be expected by Republicans to ignore these obligations until this mess can be “worked out”! This notion is beyond stupid it is outright incompetent. You are correct in saying the state’s emergency fund, which is currently over two billion, is a bragging point for Republicans. But Republicans are ignoring the elephant in the room. The causes which lead up to the public schools running out of money were poor planning coupled with for profit charter school program. Republicans created this “charter school program” where the teachers and administers are not required to have the licensure requirements of traditional schools, poured tons of public tax money into a system that has questionable educational results, (several of these charters have been closed due to low academic performance) but made tons of money for their private operators. A large portion of which are corporations operating out of another state. These so-called emergency funds may be insufficient to keep the traditional or charter school system afloat. There is also the problem of kids attending these charters being dumped back into the traditional public school system due to the charters going out of business. I seriously doubt a private enterprise will keep its doors open without the constant flow of public funds into it’s coffers. The bottom line here is that Republicans have failed miserably in providing the youth of this state a quality education which will allow them to obtain employment. It is next to impossible these days to find a decent job without the ability to read, perform basic math and express themselves in writing. But Republicans can be proud of the fact they have lowered taxes and have a useless surplus.

  2. TC

    All true. I don’t think you went far enough though.

    • TC

      I couldn’t find this last night, but I was able to locate it this evening and would like to add it as an addendum to my previous statement. According to the research, North Carolina has been the worst state to work in, nationwide, for the last three years.

      No statistics are given, but the evaluative metrics are provided and how that conclusion was derived. Just a little value added to your piece.

  3. ringlet86

    Governemnt should be the absolute minimum and just a little bit less, and lowers pay structures with worse benefits than anything in the private sector upon which derives its benefits and income. Otherwise the entire system does not work.

    • John Guptill

      ringlet86: Did you read the article? It isn’t working. I started teaching in 1975. The pay was lousy, but the benefits made it tolerable. After getting a Master’s Degree the pay bump made life better. Now all that is gone. I retired after teaching 45 years. If I was getting out of school today with a teaching degree I could not and would not teach in NC.

      • TC

        He/she/it is a troll John. An inert slug has a better grasp of reality and what government is and what it is supposed to do than what this person posits.

        Lets hope our ChatGPT poster child isn’t in charge of anyone other than him/her/itself.

      • ringlet86

        Less administrators would be a big help.

    • LibraryLady

      ringle86 can’t even spell government, much less understand it.

  4. Jane Smith Patterson

    Bravo Thomas Mills for telling the truth about what has happened to our state government as a result of Republicans taking over the state with tales of making government more efficient. Efficient at what COST!!! We used to be known as the good roads state, the good education state, a fair tax state, the state that valued environmentalism and was willing to develop the Area Health Education Centers to aid all of Rural NC with greater access to health resources.ot NC. There was an interest in job development that can provide a good check for that work that can enable you to provide a good living for a family.

    Governor Hunt came into office and raised the paychecks of teachers to the national average and now in the past few years of Republican management of education, it appears we are back to the teacher paycheck levels prior to Governor Hunt’s education salary initiative began. I have not looked at the current pay levels of state government employees…but did not realize that you no longer have access to a decent retirement plus health insurance at the end of a career in state government. State government should be an example of a place where you can have a decent retirement with health insurance when you retire.

    Your blog is the most accurate of what has happened to government to push NC backward in what North Carolinians said they valued….good education, good roads, ability to find good jobs here, an environment (clean air, clean water, plentiful forests, and concern for the rivers insideNC) and oceans that abut our state”s coastal regions from the (Virginia) to the South (South Carolina). Jane Smith Patterson

    • Janet Jacobs McLamb

      Thank you, Jane. I remember my days as a state employee under Governor Hunt well. Being a state employee then meant something and I was proud to be one. It is so sad to see the disdain with which many members of the NC Legislature treat state employees today. NC Republicans are following the policies being advocated by MAGA – destroy public education, constrain our great state universities with politics and lack of funding, deny heath care through Medicaid to our most vulnerable citizens, and ignore the overwhelmng need for affordable housing in our State. I plan to work for those candidates for office that see the need for a well-educated, well-paid and well-respected state government workforce.

  5. Nancy

    Thank you for expressing yourself so well. You have stated the issue clearly. As a retired public school teacher, I have been very aware of the lack of support to school personnel by the Republican legislature for these 12 years. With protections to corporations and the wealthy, they have sacrificed our educational system. And the sad part is they don’t seem to care.

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