North Carolina should be ready for more urbanization and a middle class that keeps shrinking in the coming decades.
That's according to an analysis from N.C. State University economics professor Michael Walden, who examined how the state might change by the year 2050 if current trends continue.
Walden says as many as a third of North Carolina's counties could substantially depopulate by then, and as automation takes over for more middle-class jobs, more older adults will need access to higher education.
"All the way from two-year colleges to four-year universities are going to see a whole new group of students coming back to school. I call this 'renewal education' to quite literally get trained for a new occupation," Walden says.
The U.S. Census Bureau once considered North Carolina a rural state, but a majority of the population now lives in metropolitan areas.
"Many think that's going to continue," Walden says. "That we're going to have more and more people being packed into fewer and fewer counties. We're going to have a very large mega-region that spans from Raleigh to the Triad and Charlotte, and really continues down to Atlanta."
As many as a third of the state's counties could experience significant depopulation by then, Walden says, unless technology makes it easier for people to live in rural North Carolina without having to commute to the cities.
Walden also says the state's economy should be ready to absorb the rising costs associated with the effects of global warming, unemployment and new infrastructure.