In looking at the spatial patterns of low-wage work in North Carolina, we aimed to highlight the counties most impacted by low wage employment in order to identify regional trends or differences between urban and rural counties. Various lenses are needed to understand geographical trends in low-wage work, so we looked at four characteristics: 1) low-wage jobs as a percentage of total jobs, 2) the percentage of jobs that fall into an industry considered to be low-wage, 3) NC Department of Commerce Tier Designation, and 4) the total number of low-wage jobs (i.e. magnitude). Please scroll below the map to learn more about how low wage work is defined, the NCDOC Tier System, and what makes a county urban.

Where are low-wage jobs?

The interactive map highlights the trends of low-wage work across the three major geographical regions of North Carolina (Coastal, Piedmont, and Mountains) as well as urban versus rural counties. 

Use the LAYERS menu in the interactive map below to explore different layers. Mouse over the map for informational pop-ups. 

Definition of Low Wage Job - The definition of “low wage” matches the US Census Bureau definition (based on LODES data) of low wage, which is any job that pays less than $1,250 a month. This also closely matches the federal definition of the poverty line, which is approximately $15,730 a year for a household of two people. Under our definition of low-wage work (150% of the poverty line for a two person household - $11.34 per hour or $23,595 a year), the actual number of low-wage jobs in the figures below should be considerably higher and the number of middle-wage jobs considerably lower.

Definition of Tier System - Every county in North Carolina is given a tier ranking based on an economic development factor that accounts for the following variables: average unemployment rate, median household income, population growth rate, and the adjusted assessed property value per capita. Through these designations, North Carolina legislation authorizes tax credits and other market incentives to encourage economic activity. A higher tier designation (i.e. three) normally means a more economically healthy county, so less economic incentives are available. Unfortunately, some counties are given higher tier designations when on-the-ground economic data paints a different picture, such as the state of low-wage work. For example, Carteret County earned a favorable tier designation but has one of the highest percentages of low-wage jobs in North Carolina.

Definition of “Urban” County - We used the US Census Bureau’s definition of “urban” – which is an area that contains 50,000 or more people. By this definition, 15 counties in North Carolina have urbanized populations.