NC in Focus: Sweet Potato Production, 2018

Agriculture and agribusiness – i.e. food, fiber, and forestry – contributed nearly 17 percent (over $87 billion) to North Carolina’s total economic output in 2016, and employed 730,000 of North Carolina’s workers, according to a recent report from NC State. North Carolina is particularly known for two agricultural exports that will surely appear on many tables this Thanksgiving – turkey and sweet potatoes.


North Carolina’s rank in sweet potato production among all 50 states, according to 2017 data from the USDA Agricultural Statistics Service. It has maintained this ranking for the last 18 years.

2 Billion

Pounds of sweet potatoes that North Carolina produced in 2017, exceeding all other states combined.

Since 2014, North Carolina has annually broken its record for pounds produced, and this past year was no exception! It remains to be seen whether the 2018 harvest will continue this trend, however, as the impacts of Hurricane Florence and tropical storm Michael are still being measured.


North Carolina’s share of national sweet potato production.  North Carolina has accounted for over half of the nation’s total sweet potatoes since 2014.

$347 Million

Value of the 2017 sweet potato harvest. Sweet potatoes were the fourth most valuable crop in North Carolina, behind tobacco ($724 million), soybeans ($639 million), and corn ($501 million).


Counties that collectively produced over 40% of the 2017 sweet potato harvest:

  • Wilson (246 million pounds)
  • Nash (217 million pounds)
  • Johnston (212 million pounds)
  • Edgecombe (180 million pounds)

Wilson County alone produced more sweet potatoes in 2017 than the entire state of Louisiana (219 million pounds), the fourth-highest producing state.

(Sampson County, the leading producer in 2016, chose to withhold exact figures to avoid disclosing data for individual farms.)

Source: USDA, National Agricultural Statistics Service
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NC in Focus: 2017 Veteran Snapshot

Just over 656,000 veterans lived in North Carolina in 2017 according to the most recent American Community Survey estimates. This is a decrease of 10,000 veterans from 2016, a decline of 1.5 percent. Nationally, the veteran population decreased at a similar rate, declining from 18.5 million in 2016 to 18.2 million in 2017, a loss of 292,000 on veterans.

While the veteran population has been steadily declining, the total adult population continues to grow. As a result, veterans comprise a smaller share of the civilian adult population. In North Carolina, veterans now make up 8.3% of the adult population, down from 8.6% in 2016. Nationally, veterans are an even smaller share of the adult population: 7.3% in 2017 versus 7.4% in 2016.


North Carolina’s veterans are much older, on average, then the non-veteran adult population. Forty-five percent (46%) of NC veterans are 65 or older compared to just 18% of non-veteran adults. Just 10% of the state’s veterans are between the ages of 18 and 34, one-third the share of non-veterans (30%) in this age group.

Reflecting this older age structure, North Carolina veterans are more likely to have a disability than non-veterans. Twenty-nine percent (29%) of the state’s veterans reported a disability in 2017 compared to 15% of the state’s non-veterans.


Though North Carolina’s veterans are predominantly male, the female population of veterans is growing. In 2017, more than one in every ten veterans in the state (10.6%) was female, higher than the national average of 8.9%. The population of female veterans increased by over 1,000 individuals in the past year, rising from nearly 68,000 in 2016 to 69,300 in 2017.

Race & Ethnicity

The veteran population is somewhat less diverse than the state’s overall adult population, reflecting the relatively older age structure. Among North Carolina’s veterans in 2017:

  • 72% are white vs. 66% of non-veteran adults;
  • 21% are black vs. 21% of non-veterans;
  • 3.7% are Hispanic vs. 7.7% of non-veterans;
  • 1.0% are American Indian vs. 1.2% of non-veterans;
  • 0.6% are Asian vs. 3.0% of non-veterans; and
  • 1.2% are some other race or multiracial vs. 1.4% of non-veterans.

Period of Military Service

In North Carolina, like the nation, the largest share of veterans served during the Vietnam era: 35% in North Carolina and 36% nationwide. Compared to the national average, North Carolina’s veterans were more likely to report Gulf War era service (45% vs. 40% nationally) and less likely to have served during the Korean War or World War II (9% vs. 11%). A similar share of veterans reported serving during no specific military conflict (23%).

Labor Force, Income, and Poverty

Compared to their non-veteran peers, North Carolina veterans of prime working age (18-64) are less likely to be in the labor force: 73.8% of NC veterans were in the labor force compared to 75.3% of non-veterans.

This is largely driven by older veterans and the relatively older age structure of veterans overall. Among younger age groups, NC veterans were more likely to be in the labor force in 2017:

  • 80.4% of NC veterans aged 18-34 were in the labor force vs. 76.0% of non-veterans;
  • 83.1% of NC veterans aged 35-54 were in the labor force vs. 80.8% of non-veterans; and
  • 58.0% of NC veterans aged 55-64 were in the labor force vs. 62.4% of non-veterans.

Among those in the labor force, North Carolina’s veterans were less likely to be unemployed: 3.8% of veterans aged 18-64 were unemployed in 2017 compared to 5.2% of non-veterans. The difference was most pronounced among the youngest veterans, with 5.0% of veterans aged 18-34 reporting unemployment compared to 8.1% of non-veterans.

North Carolina’s veterans also had much higher median incomes than the non-veteran population. Among the population receiving income, the median veteran income in 2017 was $38,682, more than $11,600 or 43% higher than the median non-veteran income of $27,064.

Reflecting these higher incomes, North Carolina’s veterans were much less likely to be in poverty than non-veterans. Just 7.4% of the state’s veteran population had incomes below the poverty line in 2017, nearly half the rate of the state’s non-veteran adult population (13.4%).

Educational Attainment

Though non-veterans are more likely to hold a bachelor’s degree or higher (32% vs. 28% of veterans), North Carolina’s veterans are much more likely to have attended some college or received an associate degree (40% vs. 30%). In total, 68% of North Carolina veterans have some college or a postsecondary degree compared to 62% of non-veterans.

Veterans are also much more likely than non-veterans to have completed high school: just 6% of NC veterans reported having less than a high school diploma in 2017 versus 13% of non-veterans.


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Fast-growing Asian population highly concentrated in NC urban areas

North Carolina’s Asian population is the fastest-growing racial/ethnic group in the state. The state’s Asian population grew from 209,400 residents in 2010 to more than 303,000 in 2017, an increase of nearly 94,000 or 44.7%. The state’s total population grew by 7.7% over this period.

The Asian population is also the fastest-growing group nationwide and North Carolina’s Asian population is growing at a faster pace than the nation’s. Between 2016 and 2017, the Asian population increased by 3.1% nationally. In North Carolina, the Asian population increased by 5.1% over this time.

The state’s Asian population is highly concentrated. Over half of North Carolina’s Asian residents live in one of three counties: Wake (76,500), Mecklenburg (64,900), or Guilford (26,700). The counties with the next largest Asian populations are Durham (15,600), Orange (11,800), and Forsyth (9,200).

Though the Asian population is increasing rapidly, it still constitutes a smaller share of North Carolina’s population than the nation’s.  Statewide, 3.0% of North Carolina’s population is Asian, roughly half the share nationwide (5.8%).

Unlike the Hispanic population—which comprises a greater share of the population in some of the state’s rural counties—the Asian population is heavily concentrated in the state’s urban areas. There are only nine counties where the Asian population makes up 3% or more of the county total population.

In Orange County, 8.1% of residents are of Asian origin, the highest share statewide, followed by Wake (7.1%), Mecklenburg (6.0%), Guilford (5.1%), and Durham (5.0%) counties. The share of Asian residents is also above the state average in Catawba (4.3%), Cabarrus (3.9%), Burke (3.6%), and Craven (3.1%) counties. The Asian populations in these counties represent a wide range of cultural/ethnic origins:

  • In Orange and Durham counties, Chinese is the most commonly reported Asian origin.
  • In Wake, Mecklenburg, and Cabarrus counties, the largest share of Asian residents identifies as Asian Indian.
  • Vietnamese is the most commonly reported origin among the Asian population in Guilford County.
  • Individuals of Hmong origin comprise most of the Asian residents in both Catawba and Burke counties.
  • Over half of Asian residents in Craven County identify as Burmese.

For more on North Carolina’s Asian population, see this post detailing the growth of the foreign-born Asian population.

Data sources: U.S. Census Bureau Population Estimates (2017 Vintage) and 2016 5-Year American Community Survey estimates.

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NC in Focus: County Health Rankings – Quality of Life in North Carolina

Note: This is second in a series of posts on county health rankings from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. The first post on Length of Life can be found here.

The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) releases annual county rankings on different aspects of community wellness across five major categories – Length of Life, Quality of Life, Health Behaviors, Clinical Care, and Social and Economic Factors. This blog focuses on Quality of Life measures in North Carolina counties.

How RWJF Develops the Quality of Life County Health Ranking

RWJF develops a composite ranking for a county’s quality of life based on self-reported health data from the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance Survey (BRFSS) as well as vital statistics from the National Center for Health Statistics. Four sub-factors are used in this county health measure:

  • Poor or Fair Health – the percentage of adults who reported themselves to currently be in poor or fair health
  • Poor Physical Health Days – the average number of physically unhealthy days reported in the past 30 days
  • Poor Mental Health Days – the average number of mentally unhealthy days reported in the past 30 days
  • Low Birthweight – the percentage of live births with low birthweight (less than 5.5 lbs)

Quality of Life rankings help to indicate the prevalence and severity of diseases, disabilities, and other chronic conditions that exist in a community. These four measures used by RWJF encompass different aspects of a community’s quality of life. The first three measures (derived from BRFSS data) assess the physical and mental health conditions of a county’s residents. Previous research indicates that counties with more unhealthy days were more likely to have higher rates of unemployment and poverty, a greater percentage of adults that did not finish high school, and a greater prevalence of disability, highlighting the interrelationship between economic conditions and health.

Meanwhile, Low Birthweight (LBW) is a useful community health indicator as it represents both child and maternal health. LBW children are more likely to have growth and developmental issues, develop cardiovascular and respiratory conditions later in life, and have higher rates of physical and mental impairments. LBW also helps to indicate maternal access to health care and exposure to health risks.

County Health Rankings

The five North Carolina counties that ranked highest in Quality of Life – Dare, Wake, Currituck, Orange, and Camden – performed better than the state average on all four of the Quality of Life sub-factors. Orange, Wake, and Camden counties also ranked lowest in premature death – the measure used to rank length of life by RWJF. Residents in these counties tend to have higher rates of educational attainment and better access to healthcare, which is strongly tied to better quality of life outcomes.

By comparison, the five lowest-ranking counties (Robeson, Scotland, Warren, Edgecombe, and Vance) all performed much worse than the state average across all four measures. Two of these (Robeson and Vance) were among the five counties with the highest rates of premature death, as well. Across all five counties, over a quarter of residents (26%) reported being in poor or fair health at the time of the survey.

Across the state, counties in the northeast and Sandhills tended to have the worst quality of life rankings, while counties in the Charlotte metro, Triangle metro, and along the coast ranked highest.

Source: 2018 County Health Rankings, Robert Wood Johnson Foundation

Racial/Ethnic Disparities in Quality of Life

Quality of Life indicators vary widely by race and ethnicity in North Carolina. Asian residents in the state were the only demographic group that performed as well as or better than the state average in all four Quality of Life sub-factors. Meanwhile, American Indian residents were the only demographic group that performed worse than the state average across all four components.

For the Black, Hispanic, and White groups, Quality of Life measures presented mixed results. Although one in five Black residents reported being in poor or fair health (two percentage points higher than the state average), the number of days per month spent in poor physical or mental health were comparable to the state overall. A third of Hispanic adults also reported being in poor or fair health, though babies born to Hispanic mothers were two percentage points less likely than the state average to be born underweight. Finally, White respondents were less likely to report being in poor or fair health than other demographic groups, but had the second-highest average number of days spent in poor mental health among the five demographic groups. This was nearly 8% greater than the state average.

These results indicate the complexity of these health measures and highlight the specific challenges present for certain geographic and racial/ethnic communities.

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NC in Focus: County Health Rankings – Length of Life in North Carolina

The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) releases annual health rankings at the county-level for each state in the nation. These rankings are divided into categories measuring different aspects of community wellness: Length of Life, Quality of Life, Health Behaviors, Clinical Care, and Social and Economic Factors.

Each factor is calculated by one or more markers of wellness – each deserving of a separate blog. This blog will focus on Length of Life in North Carolina counties.

How RWJF Develops the Length of Life County Health Ranking

RWJF assigns a Length of Life ranking to each county based on total “premature deaths,” defined as the total years of potential life lost before age 75 (YPLL) per 100,000 residents. Every death prior to age 75 contributes to the county’s YPLL. For example, a person who dies at age 30 contributes 45 years of life lost to a county’s total years of potential life lost. Statewide, North Carolina’s YPLL was 7,300 per 100,000, nearly on par with the national rate of 7,214.

Premature death rates provide a better indication of local risk factors in a county than measures of overall deaths, as they highlight deaths that could have been preventable. On the other hand, total mortality rates are influenced by the age structure of the region. This measure of premature death thus allows local policymakers and health officials to target higher-risk areas.

County Health Rankings

The top five counties with lowest rates of premature death are:

  • Orange County (4,471)
  • Wake County (4,514)
  • Camden County (5,420)
  • Watauga County (5,492)
  • Union County (5,589)

Of these, three fall within either the Triangle or the Charlotte metropolitan areas (followed by Mecklenburg County at #6 and Durham County at #7). This likely reflects the positive role of higher educational attainment and wide access to healthcare on health outcomes on enhancing length of life. These counties have substantially lower rates of premature death than the state and nation overall.

In fact, Orange and Wake counties fall in the 10th percentile for all US counties (up to 5,300 potential years of life lost). By comparison, the state’s overall YPLL is 7,300 potential years of life lost per 100,000 residents.

Meanwhile, the five counties with the lowest-ranking premature death rates were primarily in the Sandhills:

  • Robeson County (12,129)
  • Swain County (11,550)
  • Bladen County (11,524)
  • Columbus County (11,463)
  • Vance County (11,139)

Across the state, counties in the northeast, Sandhills, and some Western portions of the state were among those with the worst length of life outcomes.

Racial/Ethnic Disparities in Length of Life

Length of life also differs widely across racial/ethnic demographic groups. American Indian and Black residents have much higher premature death rates than the state average and are described by RWJF as being “most similar in health to those living in the least healthy quartile of counties.”

White residents closely match the state’s overall premature death rate, while Asian and Hispanic residents are much lower than the state rate. In fact, the premature death rate for Asian and Hispanic residents is lower than even the top-ranked counties (Orange and Wake), indicating a very low overall presence of preventable death in these communities.

Next week’s series will focus on Quality of Life rankings by county. When assigning a ranking for this measure, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation considers factors related to citizens’ overall wellbeing, including presence of illness, mental health, physical wellbeing, and infant birthweights. This comprehensive health measure allows policymakers and healthcare professionals to identify areas where citizens frequently report the worst health outcomes, and to develop targeted strategies based on the four sub-measures.


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