In the governor’s State of the State address Wednesday, we will hear about a welcome drop in the jobless rate and thousands of jobs promised by businesses in 2013, in return for financial benefits promised them by the state.
These jobs are promised assembling television sets in Winnsboro, passenger jets in North Charleston and prestige automobiles in Greer. Six hundred jobs are promised at a call center in Horry County. A Chinese textile company pledges more than 500 jobs in Lancaster County.
Promised jobs do not always materialize. On the other hand, BMW promised 1,900 jobs in 1992. By 2008, there were 5,400 full-time jobs at the plant.
But with all the focus on jobs, I wonder if the number created, let alone simply announced, is really the best measure of progress in South Carolina. As minimum-wage protesters say, there are plenty of jobs at fast-food restaurants and retailers, but not enough that pay well and provide benefits to achieve an acceptable standard of living.
Businesses such as BMW, Boeing and Michelin, which do pay well and provide benefits, obviously think there’s more to the equation. They are working to help move our state past basic literacy, beyond minimally adequate education, to achieve quality in public schools at the preschool, elementary, secondary and university levels.
Quality-of-life measures include education as well as infant mortality, life expectancy and income. Education is measured by national and international standards. Low infant-mortality rates are achieved by providing health care throughout pregnancy and in the infant’s first year. Life expectancy is for a long and healthy life. Income should be high enough to provide adequate housing, transportation, medical care, clothing, a healthy diet and access to the arts, as well as recreation, educational opportunities, travel and community involvement.
Let us use internationally accepted measures for South Carolina, so that we can compare ourselves critically to our competitors and compete successfully with other states and countries for the highest-paying jobs, and for businesses that have the greatest potential for improving quality of life in our state, from large manufacturers to small biotech companies.
In 1992, South Carolina ranked 43rd nationally in per capita personal income. In 2010, we ranked 46th. In 2012, we ranked 48th. That’s not progress. And it lands us in between the mountain state, West Virginia, ranked 47th, and the potato farm state, Idaho, ranked 49th.
Fast forward to January 2015, when we hope the governor will report on not only how many jobs are promised, but also how we rate on such measures as life expectancy, achievement in public education, infant mortality and per capita income.
Our governor responds daily, with financial incentives, to needs of businesses that come to our state. However, the governor should not just procure jobs, but respond to the needs of citizens, by tracking, reporting and documenting the improvement in quality-of-life measures in every county, in return for our willingness to pay taxes.
Since our founding as a colony in 1663 and as a state in 1788, there has been a wide gap between the richest business executives and the poorest workers.
A focus only on jobs, creating what the governor calls “a strong business environment,” leads to ignoring the need to improve, for every citizen, personal wealth, health and access to a high-quality public education.
And while she’s at it, the governor should call for a strong home environment too. After all, it’s a balancing act.
Dr. Smith is president of Metromark Market Research of Columbia; contact him at email@example.com.