As more North Carolinians fall into poverty year after year, it is surprising to hear North Carolina legislators ignore the trends and facts about poverty in our state. During the House Select Committee on Early Childhood Education Development meeting this morning, Representative Cleveland  of Onslow County claimed  that there are no North Carolinians living in extreme poverty. Let’s set the record straight about the economic hardships some North Carolinians face.
According to the latest United States Census data, 17.4 percent of North Carolinians lived below the federal poverty line in 2010. This stingy threshold was set at $22,314 for a family of four in 2010. Even more disturbing are the 728,842 North Carolinians who lived in deep poverty—which equates to an annual income of roughly $11,100 for a family of four. In fact, the deep poverty rate for North Carolina is a full percentage point above the national rate of 6.8 percent. There are only 9 states with a higher deep poverty rate than North Carolina’s deep poverty rate.
Worse, 1 in 4 children in North Carolina lived in poverty in 2010. The numbers are higher for African American, Latino, and American Indian children, 40.2 percent, 42.6 percent, and 37.9 percent respectively, compared to 14 percent for white children. What about the children living in deep poverty? There are 258,770 of them, which brings North Carolina’s child deep poverty rate to 11.5 percent. Of the children living in deep poverty, 13.8 percent of them are under the age of 6. See the chart below for county-level poverty and deep poverty data.
Most important, the federal poverty line upon which all these numbers are based has long been recognized as out of date (designed in the 1960s) and flawed. It does not take into account cost-of-living variations and ignores expenses that are significant today but not in 1960s, like child care and health care. Research  shows that a family of four needed an annual income of $48,814 in 2010 to make ends meet. So a household of four with $22,000 or $11,000 would need to forgo basic monthly expenses for 7 and 9 months, respectively, to make ends meet with what they have.
For these reasons, the federal poverty line does not reflect the true number of North Carolinians who are struggling. The number facing hardship is far greater.