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Eastern N.C. offers everything but pay
July 24,2005
Eastern North Carolina has many things to offer prospective visitors. Sunshine, beaches and hundreds of years of history make for a compelling draw.

Those seeking better pay, however, might be inclined to look elsewhere.

"They definitely need to raise that up," said Loretta Stancil. A former resident of Lakewood, N.J., Stancil works for a New Bern bookseller and said the difference in wages between the two areas is significant.

Stancil's observation coincides with a national trend. A June report from the Department of Labor Bureau of Labor Statistics in Atlanta identifies the South as the region with the lowest cost per hour in employee compensation.

Combined costs for salaries, wages and benefits come to an average of $21.36 per hour in the South, a full $5.73 less than in the Northeast. The South was also the only region to fall below the national average of $24.17.

Allan Libby, president of the Greater Topsail Area Chamber of Commerce and Tourism, said, for the most part, that much of eastern North Carolina is made up of service and seasonal jobs. An abundance of hotels and restaurants dot the area, and most job prospects arrive with a short-term mindset.

He said the cost of living throughout the eastern portion of the state is "significantly cheaper" than parts of the Northeast and the Rust Belt, which runs through the Midwest. Plus, he said, the tax rate is low.

"Our service area consists of beach communities," Libby said. "I think wages are subjective. There are some people who come here and simply want to work and live at the beach. I'd say most of the jobs sought in this area are probably tough to keep on a year-round basis."

According to Karin Zipf, a historian at East Carolina University, lower wages in the South is not a recent development.

"Southern jobs have historically been in manufacturing," she said. "Industries like coal and textiles have lower profit margins, which makes employers more resistant to unionization and less likely to pay a higher wage."

Within the South, the South Atlantic area - which includes North Carolina - had the highest total compensation. The East South Central area - composed of Alabama, Kentucky, Mississippi and Tennessee - had the lowest compensation in both the region and the country.

In addition to having lower total compensation costs, employers in the South pay more in wages and less in benefits. Wages and salaries in the South account for 72.1 percent of the total cost, with benefits accounting for the remaining 27.9 percent.

Wages and salaries nationwide account for only 71 percent of total costs, with the remaining 29 percent going to benefits such as Social Security, workers' compensation and unemployment insurance.

Cost levels for the report were collected from a sample of 42,000 occupations within 9,600 organizations in private industry.

Farm, household and self-employed workers were excluded from consideration.