Quality of life, or quality of place, often determines why we choose to live in a certain region or neighborhood. World Health Organization standard indicators of quality of life include wealth, employment, educational opportunities, recreation, religious connections, safety, security, access to quality healthcare, and economic vibrancy. We often prioritize these characteristics for ourselves as we resolve where to raise our families, grow our businesses, or live out our golden years.
Our state and local government leaders must prioritize legislation that ensures we can maintain a satisfactory quality of life without being overburdened by fear that we have chosen poorly in where to lay down our roots. Unfortunately, those fears are now realities here in Hoke County. Years of poor leadership have left us with higher crime, low-performing public schools, lower median incomes, and fewer opportunities to attract new businesses and budding entrepreneurs.
Crime statistics show that crime, including violent offenses and drugs, has increased substantially over the past few years. Opioid and Fentanyl deaths have skyrocketed since 1990, yet our current legislators often turn a blind eye to this epidemic. NBC News recently reported that Fentanyl seizures at the southern border have risen a staggering 4000%, and this deadly drug and many others surely make their way into Hoke County. Instead of trying to stop the flow of drugs into our area, legislation requiring drug testing for NC Work First program applicants (HB 392) and a bill requiring Sheriffs to cooperate with ICE officials (SB 101) both received nay votes from the current Hoke County representative Garland Pierce. Quality of life diminishes for most of us as our county turns into a haven for drug dealers and other criminals.
Our public schools are also failing and forcing parents to make tough decisions about their children’s academic needs. Many opt to leave the county or move their children into private or home-school settings for fear that the public schools will leave their children indoctrinated instead of educated. The Hoke County website recently reported that for the 2021-22 school year, six schools in Hoke County were identified as low performing, with only one school meeting that standard in 2018-19. Instead of encouraging public schools to focus on academics and funding tutoring programs to help children learn to their full potential, our current state representative voted to include the teaching of racism and critical race theory in our schools (HB 324).
The US Bureau of Labor Statistics historical data shows that Hoke County consistently has a higher unemployment rate than the state and national averages. Lack of opportunities for quality employment and perception of Hoke’s quality of life standards are surely factors that contribute to these high unemployment numbers. Hoke County is fortunate to have a large military community as part of our local population. Without their contributions to our tax base and local economy, Hoke County would surely be in an even poorer economic state.
Young families, business owners, and economic development professionals are not going to be quick to choose Hoke County for their next home or business venture if we do not demand our elected officials work to improve our quality of life. Crime, poor schools, drug-related deaths, and a lower median income than the state average are not going away without some strong leadership in Raleigh. We need to vote for prosperity, safety, and security in November.
Melissa Swarbrick is a candidate for NC House District 48