Exactly 302 people responded to Beacon’s online survey last month to identify the local issues that most concern Outer Banks residents. The survey ran for 18 days (July 7–25), with most responses (271) coming via social media. Overall, environmental issues, affordable housing, and the minimum wage stand out as respondents’ top priorities. Support for the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) is also widespread.
Of all the respondents, 58% have lived on the Outer Banks for 15 years or more, including those who have lived here all their lives (10%). A majority of people (71%) have jobs, are self-employed, or own a business. Twenty-five percent are retired. The remaining 4% are either out of work or not employed. Age was not one of the survey’s questions.
Asked whether they favor or oppose offshore drilling and seismic testing, 87% of respondents opposed drilling and 85% opposed seismic testing. Of those who said they are unsure, 2% were more unsure of seismic testing than offshore drilling. Though statistically insignificant, that small disparity could mean fewer people understand seismic testing’s impacts on marine life, which suggests more can be done to educate the public on the matter.
Another question related to the environment asked whether people agree or disagree with the repeal of the plastic bag ban. Eighty-seven percent said they disagree—among the highest negative responses in the survey—with 72% of those strongly disagreeing with the repeal effort.
Concern for the survey’s other environmental issue—flooding and sea-level rise—was also significant. While only 55% of respondents live in flood-prone areas, 75% of all respondents are at least concerned about flooding. Asked if local government should be more proactive in preparing for the impacts of sea-level rise, 80% said yes. This indicates that many respondents are concerned about the long-term health of the community at least as much as they are for their own near-term reasons.
Affordable housing and minimum wage
Throughout America, the demand for low-cost housing far exceeds the supply that’s available. But even available properties are unaffordable to minimum-wage earners. For instance, an average American household needs to earn at least $21.21 an hour to afford a modest, two-bedroom apartment without spending more than 30% of its income on rent.
Minimum wage needed, per state, for 2-bedroom rental home
Here in North Carolina, the minimum wage needed for a two-bedroom rental is $15.79. But in Dare County, that amount jumps up to $17.17.
Within our survey, 89% of respondents were at least concerned about the availability of affordable housing. When asked if the minimum wage should be raised, 92% of those who gave a clear opinion (i.e., yes or no) thought it should be.
On the question of what the minimum wage should be, 248 people responded, 10 of whom offered an explanation without stating a dollar amount. The average of the quantitative responses was $13.57/hr; the median value was $15.00/hr.
“This is a tough question,” wrote one person. “Many biz owners could not afford to raise above a certain level. Very catch22ish in these parts.”
Clearly, affordable housing and minimum wage are major concerns for people on the Outer Banks. While the county government can’t change the minimum wage—a right that HB2 took away from localities—it can invest in and pursue reasonable initiatives to solve the housing dilemma. Creative, viable solutions would likely be supported by most residents.
Tied to the issues of affordable housing and minimum wage is public transportation, such as ways for people to get to and from their jobs. The survey asked if existing tax revenues should be used to fund public transportation for the Outer Banks. Of those who stated a clear opinion (i.e., yes or no), 79% thought funding should be provided.
Several other survey questions stood out as noteworthy. Regarding proposed laws affecting commercial fishing, 92% of respondents expressed concern and indicated they had at least a basic knowledge of the issue.
Another issue that emerged as significant was Rep. Beverly Boswell’s proposed bill to allow concealed carry of weapons without a permit or training. Ninety percent of respondents oppose the bill.
Closely behind those two issues were the 89% of respondents who expressed concern about drug and opioid abuse in Dare County.
Finally, of all the questions posed in the survey, only one received nearly unanimous support. Ninety percent of respondents want the North Carolina General Assembly to pass the Equal Rights Amendment.