RALEIGH, N.C. _ As North Carolina heads into an election year, its historic position as a leader in the South rests on somewhat shaky ground.
In many ways, North Carolina is still in a position where a lot of states would like to be.
"In the first decade of the 21st century, North Carolina emerged as one of America's leading-edge states, with a booming democracy and vibrant culture that are in many ways typical of the way the nation was going _ or wanted to go," says the latest edition of The Almanac of American Politics, edited by Michael Barone and Richard E. Cohen.
Forbes Magazine says North Carolina has the nation's fourth-best business climate, and the second-best in the South after Virginia's.
State government is fiscally sound. Standard and Poor's gives North Carolina an AAA bond rating, its highest. Among Southern states, Florida, Georgia and Virginia also have AAA bond ratings. North Carolina did this by making tough calls, whether cutting spending or raising taxes.
North Carolinians earned more than most Southerners. Only residents of Virginia, Georgia and Florida were more affluent.
The state is also struggling in many ways, however, according to a recent statistical snapshot of how Southeastern states are faring. It has the country's eighth-highest unemployment rate, and the third-worst in the South; the 17th-highest state and local tax burden in the country, but the second-highest in the Southeast; some of the most congested highways in the South; the 16th-highest poverty rate in the country and the nation's seventh-highest level of infant mortality.
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