Well above the state poverty rate of 17.5 percent, an astounding 1 in 4 of North Carolina’s children live in poverty. Beyond the significance for a child living in a household with too few dollars to meet the most basic needs (to be poor a family of four must have an annual income below $23,314 in 2010), there are longer term implications of a childhood of hardship. Research shows that childhood poverty for the youngest children is literally built into the architecture of their developing brains with implications for their chances at educational success and attachment to the labor force. All of these play out negatively for children who are poor well into their adult years.
But what about children who are poor and live in distressed communities? Research shows they face compounding barriers to long-term economic security due to often having less access to quality educational opportunities and strong social networks. A report released by the Budget and Tax Center last Thursday found that 10.4 percent of North Carolina’s impoverished children lived in one of the state’s 100 concentrated-poverty neighborhoods—which are neighborhoods with a poverty rate of 40 percent or higher—in 2006-2010. This rate was slightly higher than the state’s concentrated-poverty rate of 10.2 percent.
For children, however, research shows that place matters regardless of family income. So, concentrated poverty exacerbates disadvantage for children living below and above the federal poverty line. Children growing up in concentrated-poverty neighborhoods are at risk of poor outcomes, including elevated stress levels, lower test scores, and higher dropout rates. For children living in middle-and upper-income families, research shows that growing up in a high-poverty neighborhood can increase the risk of downward mobility by 52 percent.
In 2006-2010, there were nearly 125,000 children living in concentrated-poverty neighborhoods in North Carolina, more than 75,000 lived above the federal poverty line and nearly 50,000 lived below the federal poverty line. But, are the economic hardships borne by these kids shared equally?
Kids of color are not only more vulnerable to poverty, they are also more vulnerable to concentrated poverty nationwide. The trend is likely the same in North Carolina, especially for African American children. Nearly half (49) of the state’s 100 concentrated-poverty neighborhoods in 2006-2010 were majority African American neighborhoods, and those neighborhoods accounted for 38.1 percent of the poor population in all concentrated-poverty neighborhoods. Whites were the majority race in 15 of the 100 concentrated-poverty neighborhoods, accounting for 14.6 percent of the poor population in extreme-poverty neighborhoods.
Again, the interaction of place and one’s life chances is abundantly clear. Neighborhood distress and underinvestment are far-reaching, requiring policies that transform neighborhoods and support the extension of opportunity to all communities in the state.