NC Budget and Tax Center

POVERTY AND POLICY MATTERS: High Poverty Persists, Extends Its Reach Across North Carolina

Poverty continued to disproportionately impact certain geographic communities in North Carolina in 2011, according to a report released last week by the North Carolina Budget and Tax Center. The data show that there was great variability in county-level poverty rates, especially when comparing rural and urban areas.See this chart for more details on county-level poverty rates in 2011.

At this point, the United States Census Bureau has only provided poverty levels for areas with at least 65,000 people. There are 39 counties in North Carolina that fit this criterion. In 2011, county-level poverty rates ranged from 10 percent in Union County to 30.4 percent in Robeson County. Eighteen counties had poverty rates equal to or below the state rate of 17.9 percent and 21 counties had poverty rates above 17.9 percent.

Nine of the 10 highest county-level poverty rates were in rural counties in 2011. The highest county-level poverty rate was in Robeson County where nearly 1 in 3 residents lived in poverty. Among urban counties, the highest poverty rate was in Durham County where more than 1 in 5 residents lived in poverty. Overall, the average poverty rate in rural counties in the state was 18.3 percent, which is 1.7 percentage points higher than the average for urban counties.

Deep poverty is also afflicting rural and urban counties alike. The deep poverty rate—which is the percentage of the population earning half or less of the annual poverty-level income for their family size—in the state was 7.8 percent. Twenty counties had deep poverty rates above the state rate. The deep poverty rates for Pitt and Robeson counties stood at nearly double the state rate in 2011.

It is no secret that the economy has been more devastating to children. In 2011, child poverty rates ranged from 11.5 percent in Union County to 43.4 percent in Robeson County. Eighteen counties had poverty rates below the state rate of 25.6 percent and 21 counties had poverty rates above 25.6 percent. As troubling as it is to have more than 1 in 4 kids living in poverty in our state, a few counties have child poverty rates that are approaching nearly 1 in 2 kids.

Also troubling are the 11.5 percent of children who lived in deep poverty in North Carolina. A sobering 18 counties had even higher child deep poverty rates, including Cleveland County where more than 1 in 5 children lived in deep poverty. The lowest child deep poverty rate was 3.4 percent in Union County.

Statewide averages of economic hardship mask the concentration of hardship in particular geographic communities. Therefore, it is important to remember that poverty rates vary from community to community within counties just as rates vary from county to county and state to state. These disparities are driven by a range of factors, including job availability, inequitable public and private investments, and long-term economic exclusion.

A lack of opportunity and access lead to negative outcomes that challenge the state’s ability to build prosperity for all. Policies aimed at bolstering job creation and the safety-net would go a long way to ease the economic hardship. Equally important will be making sure that public investments are targeted to the communities that need them the most.

We must pledge to #talkpoverty and develop the will to solve these problems.

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