Set in the beautiful Blue Ridge range of the Appalachian Mountains, the town of Boone, N.C., is rightfully receiving many accolades as a wonderful vacation destination and site for second home development. The refurbished downtown, new hotels and restaurants, expanding medical facilities and the growing campus of Appalachian State University are evidence of the financial growth of the town. Nearby ski slopes, hiking trails, rivers and lakes are ideal settings for the burgeoning recreation tourism industry.

However, these external trappings conceal the real economic conditions of a town dependent on a low-paying service economy and a handful of luxury spots for the pleasure of those with the excess capital to use them. A few facts reveal the underlying reality of the Boone economy.

According to research conducted by Data USA, a data analytics tool created by Deloitte, Datawheel, and Dr. Cesar Hidalgo of MIT, the non-student population of Boone is approximately 18,000 people. The median age of this population is 21 years old. The median household income is only $17,424. This latter number means that the real median hourly wage for a full-time worker in Boone is around $8.37. Roughly 60 percent of individuals living in Boone live in poverty. Poverty is defined by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services as the following:

• For a single individual household, an income under $12,490 per year.

• For a two-person household, the number is $16,910.

• For a three-person household, it is $21,330.

More notable is the inaccessibility of affordable housing in Boone for the median wage-worker. As of April 2019, the average rent in Boone was $653. The median property value on the other hand is currently around $268,000 and growing. To place things into perspective, half of all workers in Boone make less than $17,424 per year. To simply pay rent and nothing else, an individual must pay nearly half of their income after taxes, and in many cases, much more, to simply afford housing.

The homeownership of Boone is only 21 percent, leaving the other 79 percent of individuals in Boone renting properties from landlords. This compares to the national homeownership rate of 63.9 percent, over 40 percent larger than the homeownership rate in Boone. Even more notable, the homeownership rate across the entirety of North Carolina is at 65.4 percent.

For the vast majority of residents, Boone does not measure up to income levels in the rest of the state. At $52,000 a year, the median household income of North Carolina is roughly 200 percent more than the median household income of Boone.

Many measures of the local economy hide the ugly truth. In 2016, Watauga County’s portion of Blowing Rock alone generated over “$150 million in tourism expenditures,” according to a recent article in the Watauga Democrat written by Jeff Eason. Since Boone is the main town in the county, the value generated by tourism alone presents a picture of a healthy economy. However, this picture is grossly out of focus for most citizens. The economic stimulus produced by tourism not only fails to trickle down to most workers, but, in fact, ensures the existence of an underpaid labor class.

The reality is the labor of the working class of Boone generates mass revenue for the select few, owners and investors of the businesses that provide the necessary services of an economy largely dependent upon low-paying service sector jobs. Year after year, workers are faced with rising and inaccessible living costs while their wages stagnate. Simultaneously, the food, lodging, housing and leisure businesses target the transient tourist population, as well as the equally large student population of 18,000. Most residents are left in the dust of this so-called progress and development.

The stark reality of the Boone economy is revealed when one looks beyond the superficial to the reality of most residents.

The economic struggle of the vast majority of working class residents of Boone is covered up by the pleasant face of tourism and service industry positions in the town.

Unless the town recognizes this reality, the economic illusions of the present will continue — the sacrifice of the many for the benefits for the few.

— By Thomas

McLamb, Boone

(7) comments

Spot on Thomas Lamb! All the while downtown Boone is being walled in with high rise development of over priced student housing and mostly empty shop space. Boone and Watauga County have two major problems with low wage service jobs and un-affordable housing looking for solutions. Not hearing much out of the powers that be, except build more overprices student apartments and more empty shops!


The town of Boone is going to implode. The price of housing is jacked in-town because of the student population, the poor working class is moving out-of-town because they can no longer afford to live in-town, the students realize how ridiculous it is to pay the prices in Boone and start moving out-of-town, the price of housing out-of-town is starting to raise because of the student population. Where I last worked, almost every other person I talked to was homeless because they could not afford housing. Bradford Trailer Park? If you go there, you'll realize that 5-6 people are squeezing into a single trailer just for everyone to have a roof over their head. Section 8 & HUD has an ungodly waiting list. Many people are aware of the 'homeless camps' set up in various places. I'm not listing exact details because I don't want them getting busted, but there's two major camps in Boone, right outside city limit, where all the homeless are collecting together for both safety and socialization. Businesses all the time are talking about how hard it is to find morning and day shift... The people who would work those positions aren't going to drive up to Boone when they can work the exact same job off-the-mountain where they actually live. Unfortunately, no, that's not what's going to happen. I live in 'old housing' that should eventually become surplus housing for the workforce. In fact, that's what it was. You know what happened? We just got sold, and they're renovating the place. Every tenant, many families or non-student, was suddenly being asked, "Can you pay 1,200 a month?" I got asked, "Can you get on Section 8?" Town doesn't care... service is going to continue to decline, eventually the tourists will stop coming because it's no fun sitting in a restaurant with loud students & faulty service from the 5th waitress a business went through in a single semester. We're a college town. That's all we are. There's no future for any child raised here.

Great article! It's what many of the young professionals and working class locals have known for decades. Thanks for presenting it in such an professional, data driven manner.

Quint David

Thanks Thomas. I think you hit the nail on the head with a great reality check using facts without the kool-aid spin. Back when I first came to Boone there were 4-5k students who did not live in town. Today there are close to twice that, nearly 8,000, driving to town every day. Yikes. Who is in charge of this mess, anyway?

We can try to blame whoever we want~ Raleigh for requiring universities to grow at NC's population growth rate, businesses for growing employees to serve a largely tourism-related industry, the town for working hard to prevent new student housing and 'protecting' students out of neighborhoods, even the county for letting those others happen without directly addressing growing poverty or affordability at all, and to help widen the roads to allow working folks to drive from even further away.

Blame game aside, the 2013 Boone housing study said it exactly right "Affordable housing opportunities in and around Boone will most likely come in the form of the

rehabilitation and repositioning of older, underperforming student housing properties. While this supply likely will become more numerous as the new housing product under development is brought online, housing choice will remain elusive without some policy and/or regulatory intervention by the Town and County."

Maybe it is actually time we do what the plans and studies recommend we do? I don't know if another 10 years of ignoring studies and scientists is going to go over well in the long run.

Your neighbor who enjoys using statistics and facts to make decisions~ Quint

Deborah Greene

Well said, but, taxes, water rates are still going up and they tried to raise sales tax. They live in a bubble. The only people making anything in this town or county are those employed by ASU, the town, or the county (the top employers). Housing is geared to a university that had enrollment mandates far exceeding location. And, unfortunately, the local government has been driven, controlled and abused for decades by a greedy group seeking to control real estate prices, promote tourism and ASU at the expense of others. Tweetsie is an example of this abuse. Here is a business owned by wealthy people. But, county government, backed by resolutions of the Chamber of Commerce and the other local governments, borrowed $3 million dollars to buy the land which Tweetsie operates on for an annual lease payment $1 while the county taxpayers pay the debt. And, if that is not bad enough, the TDA gives them money annually for their capital improvements. What do we get in return, low wage jobs. I saw one of the owners not long ago come out of Harris Teeter with his cart full of food, dressed to nines and got in a Mercedes SUV. So, we foot the bill for this high life while our school system laments about the dire need for capital improvements. We have a government more interested in providing recreation for the wealthly while squeezing the blood out of those they are improvishing.


Though I appreciate the accuracy of your numbers, it does not, in any way, reflect the population of Boone! Over 2/3 of the year Boone is flooded with an out of state/town student population. In ANY university town or city, low wage service industry jobs are prevalent simply due to the fact that there are so many students to serve! Because of the burgeoning students, investors have come in and built huge numbers of rental housing for those same students. This would obviously skew the numbers in favor of rental vs. home ownership. And your numbers do not include the fact that many rentals are also available for the seasonal visitors. If you removed those seasonal and student housing rentals from your stats, I think you would find a more normalized stat. If you removed the student numbers from your low wage employed, I think the numbers would also be more normalized.

craig dudley

deb greene responded clearly to an accurate letter describing some of the conditions in the boone area. asu and real estate/building rule boone, and all others be dammed. r.barnhart allen could easily be an apologist for those who rule and control our lives in watauga county. the boc's response is to continue to pack ten pounds in a five pound sack for the benefit of their friends and 'employers': asu. traffic is bad and getting worse, and their response is to bring in more as they stand with asu in their continued expansion. our periodic flooding will see no improvement as they do nothing to alleviate that with proper flood control drainage programs, and they continue to raise taxes impacting those of us on limited incomes. and curiously enough this 'opinionator' says they think 'the numbers would also be more normalized' presenting an opinion not backed up in any statistical manner as the writer he responds to does. leads me to suspect either ignorance of reality or intentional support for the criminals who control our lives in this county.

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