What is the biggest issue facing North Carolina today? That’s the question Leslie Boney, director of NC State’s Institute for Emerging Issues (IEI), asked a group of North Carolinians in a 2017 survey.
According to the survey results, Boney said, there were actually 158 “biggest” issues. After a few more surveys, focus groups, and a March Madness-style bracket, IEI found a common thread among many of the issues: North Carolinians feel disconnected from their communities. Civic participation has decreased, while urban and rural communities feel divided.
Boney presented the story and some of the statistics behind ReCONNECTNC at Bridge in April. The October focus will be on 25- to 54-year-olds, who Boney said make up 39% of college students. This age group is facing particular challenges. Climbing out of poverty has become even more difficult in recent years. Many future jobs face replacement by AI and automated systems, especially among those in areas that are already more disadvantaged than average.
The ReCONNECTNC plan to get the state back on track involves highlighting specific programs and areas who are tackling these issues head-on as an example for the rest of the state. It also highlights the importance of supporting the 25 to 54-year old age group.
“My plea is that as we think about the myFutureNC challenge of getting two million more 25- to 44-year-olds ready for the workplace, that we think about this group as an integral part of the solution,” Boney said. “If we ignore this group, we are ignoring the parents of those children that are coming though the system, and we’re ignoring those folks who are the lifebloods of our community right now.”