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Views Of The Election: A North Carolina County, Battered By Floods, Economic Woe

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Views Of The Election: A North Carolina County, Battered By Floods, Economic Woe

Elections

Views Of The Election: A North Carolina County, Battered By Floods, Economic Woe

Views Of The Election: A North Carolina County, Battered By Floods, Economic Woe

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  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/500634362/500634363" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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Bertie County in North Carolina has the lowest median income in the state. One resident says she'd vote for anyone who would raise the minimum wage, but another thinks Hillary Clinton is too arrogant.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Let's hear how the election looks from the heights and the depths of the U.S. economy. We traveled this week to the richest county and the poorest county in North Carolina. They're a short drive away from each other in a presidential swing state. And their differences suggest our country's divides.

The poorest county is not far from the Carolina coast, a little closer to the coast than its residents might like because Bertie County flooded twice this fall, in a hurricane and a tropical storm. We arrived to find a man trying to salvage his home.

What is that that sounds like an airplane engine over here? Is that drying out your...

ADAL PIERCE: It's a fan from a chicken house, one of the older fans that they used to put inside the chicken house to keep air flow blowing through the birds. And I've just got it running backwards pulling air through the house.

INSKEEP: To try to dry it out.

He also pried off his baseboards and laid them in the driveway to dry.

What's your name?

PIERCE: Adal Pierce.

INSKEEP: Adal, A-D...

PIERCE: A-L, pronounced like the singer - I just don't have the talent or the money.

INSKEEP: He does have a job. He works for the chicken company where he got the fan. There is work in Bertie County, which is an agricultural area. But a river runs through these lowlands, and it's flooding more often.

PIERCE: I love the town. I love my neighborhood. I'd love to stay, but this is twice I've been flooded in less than 10 years. I can't put my wife through this again. It's just - it's not right.

INSKEEP: The county seat, Windsor, N.C., is a lovely town with a minizoo and huge old houses dating back as far as the 1700s. But when we arrived downtown, everything was gray from the silt the floods left behind. Piles of garbage lay on the curb as people cleaned up.

UNIDENTIIFED MAN: Tim (ph), I'm going to go get my wrenches.

INSKEEP: An electrician was rewiring Bunn's Barbecue. Out front, we met a woman whose family has owned this restaurant for decades, Grace Russell.

GRACE RUSSELL: Amazing Grace (laughter).

INSKEEP: Amazing Grace - is that what they call you?

RUSSELL: Well, I tell them that's one way they can remember my...

INSKEEP: She has now been through multiple floods.

RUSSELL: Three floods over your and my head can take a lot away from you, you know.

INSKEEP: It was over our heads, the water here...

RUSSELL: Maybe not yours, but mine, yeah.

INSKEEP: Amazing Grace is 82 years old but still with a strong handshake. Amid the local disasters, she has been watching the national election on TV. Have you decided how you're going to vote?

RUSSELL: Oh, I knew that quite a while back. After I heard all this mess on Hillary Clinton, there's no way that I could put her in office. And if we do - and they say the young people are the ones that'll put her in office. And I do wish that they would get more information. I don't know what we're going to being.

INSKEEP: Grace Russell is voting for Donald Trump, less because of issues than because of attitude. Hillary Clinton feels like radical change in this place where change has been, often, bad. The old downtown was reviving with nearly all the stores filled - until the floods.

What do you think about when people say that climate change is part of that?

RUSSELL: I'm not a scientific person enough to know enough about that to even comment.

INSKEEP: So she doesn't seem put off by Trump's view that climate change is a hoax. She likes him, mostly.

RUSSELL: He speaks his mind. He doesn't hold back for anybody, and I can admire him for that. But I wish he had let that brain tell him, don't let that out - keep that to yourself, you know, 'cause they say you should think of what you're going to say before you say it.

INSKEEP: Trump's campaign of American nostalgia can make sense in a place dotted with historic signs, where some white people trace their lineage to before the Civil War. Since before the Civil War, Bertie County has also had a substantial black population, like the woman we met in a trailer park outside Windsor. She lived in the very last trailer at the end of the gravel street. She came down the unpainted wood steps to talk.

What's your name?

CHARLOTTE GILLUM: Charlotte Gillum.

INSKEEP: She's 44 and was holding her 6 month old granddaughter.

Looks like your grandbaby wants to get into the conversation.

GILLUM: Yes.

INSKEEP: You got something to say, young lady?

GILLUM: Say I love to talk. Say I love the outside and I love to talk.

INSKEEP: Charlotte Gillum told us the story of this town that many young people leave.

GILLUM: It's a retirement community (laughter). It's - you go make a life somewhere else and then come back when you're wanting to settle down.

INSKEEP: The median age around here is 44, six years higher than the national average. Young people move as far away as New York City to find work and may come back when they retire.

If I may ask - you stayed - how come you didn't go?

GILLUM: I ended up having a baby because, I mean, I did. I wanted to go to the military. I got pregnant with my daughter. And I wasn't going to leave her. And then my dad got sick, so I didn't want to leave my dad.

INSKEEP: One thing and another.

GILLUM: I know. A lot of times I regret it, you know. But it is what it is.

INSKEEP: When she works, it's in nursing care for some of the retired people in town. And her experience affects her views of the presidential election. Her nursing jobs have paid little more than the minimum wage, which is common here.

GILLUM: My son just left a job making about seven - I guess he made seven - if he made 7.50. His check would barely be $200 sometimes, $300. And that's - you done worked five days a week.

INSKEEP: The median household income in Bertie County is $29,000 per year, barely more than half that of the country as a whole. Gillum voted early for Hillary Clinton, who has supported raising the minimum wage.

GILLUM: If anybody - if Trump would get up there and say he would do it, if you - if that - whoever driving that tractor get up and say, you know, they're going to do it...

INSKEEP: You'd be for them?

GILLUM: Yes. Because that's what I believe in. I vote for what I believe in.

INSKEEP: She says if wages were higher, fewer people would need public assistance.

How do you feel about the future of your granddaughter who's there on your shoulder?

GILLUM: I am praying every day that my daughter go - she take her baby and go somewhere else actually. I didn't want her to stay here.

INSKEEP: She wouldn't need to drive far to find that opportunity because Bertie County, the poorest in North Carolina, is only little more than 100 miles from Wake County, the state's most prosperous, with incomes more than twice as high. It's the county of Raleigh, the state capital.

How would you describe the difference between there and here?

GILLUM: (Laughter) From here to China, (unintelligible). I mean, honestly, it's no comparison to me.

INSKEEP: It's only a couple hours away.

GILLUM: That's it.

INSKEEP: The highway next to the trailer park leads toward Wake County, and we were soon on that road heading west. Having heard what the election sounds like from the bottom of the economy, we hear elsewhere this hour from the top.

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