margaret…Are you a happy person?

I am not talking about every single moment of every single day. We all have our every day frustrations, such as my current ones—an icemaker that has gone on vacation and a bathroom ceiling that needs repair. I am talking about overall satisfaction with life in the place where we live, North Carolina.

Apparently, most of us are. 

McClatchy, the company that publishes North Carolina’s two largest newspapers, the News and Observer and the Charlotte Observer as well as several smaller papers, recently published an analysis of quality of life in our state, and North Carolina stacks up not perfectly but pretty darn well compared to residents of some other states. McClatchy reporters Anna Douglas and David Raynor used data from various sources to look at large factors that contribute to our ability to land jobs and to get to those jobs. Personal health and safety obviously play into our happiness and satisfaction with life as well.

As I write this, I am also checking email and texts and—truth be told—doing a bit of online shopping. All this, including zapping my column into the good folks at Up & Coming Weekly, requires an internet connection, something I often take for granted. Turns out that most North Carolinians do have internet access at home, about four out of five of us according to U.S. Census figures. This is slightly below the national average but higher than it was after the 2010 Census. The other 21 percent of us do not have internet, however, a significant disadvantage. Sometimes Internet access is unavailable particularly in rural areas, and sometimes people do not subscribe to it, but whatever the reason, lack of internet means people cannot search for job opportunities online, cannot work from home in today’s economy and cannot enroll in online education. They are shut out from the technological world most of us live in and expect.

North Carolina, like states across the nation, is increasingly urban and suburban, which brings advantages and longer commutes to work. But those of us who drive to work in North Carolina have shorter commutes than folks elsewhere across the nation, including our neighbors in Virginia and Georgia. U.S. Census data finds our average commute is 24 minutes, up from 20 years ago, but below the national average of 26 minutes. Still, it is a reason that Tar Heel cities are exploring mass transit options on the theory that traffic congestion will get worse, not better.

We are all enjoying our lovely fall weather with its crisp air and clear blue skies. One reason we love being outside this time of year is that North Carolina has reduced our air pollution of nitrogen oxide by half since the early 2000s. This gas comes largely from motor vehicles emissions, and reduction in its levels is in large part due to the North Carolina Clean Smokestacks Act of 2002. But guard your lung health by keeping an eye on the General Assembly, which has tried to roll back emission standards. Again, mass transit can play a role here.

More good news for North Carolinians.

Both property crime and violent crime are down, the first reduced by about 45 percent since 1995 and the latter down by 46 percent over the same period. If you have been the victim of either kind of crime, these numbers may not speak to you, but they are still good news for most of us. Community policing and advances in forensic technology probably account for some of the decreases. On the flip side, however, drug abuse is on the climb, devastating families in countless ways. North Carolina joins the rest of the nation in this increase, coming in second in the South in drug overdose deaths. Stunningly, more people die in our state from drug overdoses than from vehicle accidents. Clearly, there is work to be done in this area all across our nation.

Whether we are Tar Heels born or got here as soon as we could, North Carolina is not among the fastest growing states in our nation for no reason. Decades ago, state boosters promoted “Variety Vacationland,” stressing our beautiful coast and majestic mountains and the urban centers in between. It has become truer and truer, as we have tried to nurture our natural assets and build newer ones. None of our blessings just happened, though, and we protect them only by paying attention to what our elected officials are up to at every level. 

Whether you are elated or appalled by the outcome of Nov. 8, it is incumbent on each of us to pay attention and to participate in public decision-making. I am thankful to live in North Carolina and want it to get better and better.

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