In research released last year, the UNC Center for Civil Rights builds a compelling case for how our built environment truly reflects (or doesn’t) equality of opportunity in North Carolina, particularly for communities of color.
North Carolinians have long recognized the geographic constraints to opportunity in discussions of the persistent poverty of the East, the tremendous job loss in the Piedmont and the infrastructure needs in the Mountains. And yet, our commitment to place-based strategies has waned over the years and particularly dropped off last year with the elimination of economic development funding and targeting of community development dollars to high-need communities. It is also the case, as the research from UNC Center for Civil Rights suggests, that a much more fine-grained approach to place and opportunity is needed: one that looks at the neighborhood level not just the region or county.
The returns to investment in taking a place-based approach have the potential to be great. Place has a determining effect on individual’s health, educational opportunities and lifetime earnings.
- If you are born in Asheville you have two times the chance of moving from the bottom of the income spectrum to the top than a child born in Wilson.
- If you live in a family with low-income, you are almost 10 percentage points less likely to graduate from high school.
- If you live in Robeson County you will live 8 years less on average than if you live in Wake County.
If place matters, what our local residents, leaders and state government are doing to address disparities across neighborhoods, communities and regions is critical. In a series of blog posts over the next few months, we will highlight the data on exclusion in our communities and the solutions that are being pursued locally, often without much fanfare but with great effect.
Our aim is to make clear that if North Carolina is to be competitive nationally and globally, it must reduce the difference in opportunity and outcomes by zip code.