A brief released last week by the NC Budget and Tax Center shows that the prolonged weak recovery is crippling the economy and creating economic distress for working families in NC. The state poverty rate ($22,314 for a family of four) climbed to 17.5 percent in 2010, a 22 percent increase since 2007 when the Great Recession began.
But there was more to the data released last week than state level numbers. The US Census Bureau also provided poverty levels and household income for areas with at least 65,000 people. There are 39 counties in NC that fit this criterion.** County-level poverty rates in NC ranged from 7.8 percent in Union County to 31.1 percent in Robeson County. 1 county had a poverty rate less than 10 percent, 16 counties had rates ranging from 10 percent to 17.5 percent (the state rate), and 22 counties had rates above 17.5 percent.
Poverty disproportionately impacted certain geographic communities in NC. The poverty rate in urban counties in the state was 19.1 percent, 3.7 percentage points higher than rural poverty rate of 15.4%. Yet, the more rural counties in the state had some of the highest poverty rates.
In line with national trends, deep poverty— which corresponds to an income of $11,157 for a family of four—rose in 27 of the 37 counties for which data is available from 2007 to 2010. 15 counties had a deep poverty rate above the state figure of 7.8 percent, and 10 counties suffered a higher change in the deep poverty rate compared to the state increase of 1.8 percentage points.
Median household income fell in 32 counties for which data is available between 2007 and 2010. The data show that the statewide median income fell by 12.3 percent during the same time period, lower than 9 of the hardest-hit counties. 27 of the 39 counties have a median household income below the state and national figures, $43,326 and $50,046 respectively. Robeson County and Wilkes County have the lowest median household incomes, both below $32,000. Wake County and Union County have the highest median household incomes, both above $61,000.
Robeson County has struggled the most over the year according to the data from 2010. This county had the highest poverty rate (31.1 percent) and deep poverty rate (18.7 percent), lowest median household income ($29,453), and third-highest July 2011 unemployment rate (13.4 percent) in the state.
With higher poverty and lower median household income, North Carolinians have diminished economic opportunities. Policies aimed at bolstering job creation and the safety-net would go a long way to ease the economic hardship in communities across NC. Equally important will be making sure that these resources are targeted to communities that need them the most.
** Two of these 39 counties, Carteret County and Rutherford County, met the population requirement for the first time in 2010. As a result, multiyear comparisons of poverty and income figures cannot be calculated for these two counties.