NC Budget and Tax Center

North Carolina is home to fastest growth in share of people living in high-poverty areas

Among the nation’s 50 states, North Carolina experienced the biggest increase in the proportion of people living in high-poverty areas between 2000 and 2010, according to a new U.S. Census Bureau  report.The growing number of North Carolinians living in disadvantaged neighborhoods is problematic because they face restricted access to the jobs, education, and networks that can improve their financial standing.The new report signals the need for policymakers to focus on the investments and policies that support ladders of opportunity, from Murphy to Manteo, to all North Carolinians.

The report defined high-poverty areas as places that have poverty rates of 20 percent or higher. The federal poverty level for a family of 4 is stingy, a mere $23,550—which is far lower than the $52,275 needed to make ends meet in North Carolina, per the Budget and Tax Center’s 2014 Living Income Standard. And, the 2010 data reflects the 2008-2012 five-year average.

The extent of people (poor and non-poor) living in high-poverty areas is far worse in North Carolina than in the nation, according to the report. In 2010, 31.8 percent of all North Carolinians lived in high-poverty areas compared to 25.7 percent of all Americans. If you’re poor, however, the chances of also living in high-poverty areas are far higher: more than 1 in 2 poor North Carolinians live in high-poverty areas—a concept known as the “double burden.”

In the entire nation, the share of people (poor and non-poor) living in high-poverty areas grew the fastest in North Carolina from 2000 to 2010, jumping 17.9 percentage points (see graphic below). Blocks of high-poverty areas grew in every state except for Louisiana, West Virginia, Hawaii, Alaska, and the District of Columbia.

Blog Post, June Census Study, High poverty areas
U.S. Census, Changes in Areas with Concentrated Poverty: 2000 to 2010. Figure 2, Page 7.

This report comes on the heels of previous Budget and Tax Center analyses that explored the tight link between poverty and place. Concentrated-poverty areas—which have poverty rates of 40 percent or more—more than doubled between 2000 and 2010 and suburban poverty is spiking too. A large body of research shows that living in areas of concentrated disadvantage while being poor can undermine one’s economic and health opportunities. Here’s how I explained the research in one of my previous reports:

Patterns of concentrated poverty have endured for decades in certain areas due to several interacting factors such as rapid suburbanization, deindustrialization, commercial disinvestment, and racial discrimination in housing markets. It is well-documented that patterns of concentrated poverty are also rooted in government policies—including home-ownership subsidies, public-housing location decisions, interstate and highway subsidies, and deterioration in the provision of local services.

The disadvantage of being poor and residing in a poor neighborhood magnifies and perpetuates the problems faced by people who are poor, a concept known as the “double burden.” A large body of research shows that the residential segregation of people who are poor can lead to negative neighborhood effects, which are community influences on individual socioeconomic outcomes. Examples of neighborhood effects include low-quality educational opportunities, weaker employment networks, poorer health outcomes, and elevated levels of crime.

North Carolina needs policies that strengthen the opportunity structure—especially in disadvantaged areas—in order to build a more inclusive economy that will support workers and the recovery. Placed-based policies are tools that can help achieve the goal of improving equity of access and opportunity. And, there are many options available. For starters, local policymakers should consider adopting community eligibility, which allows high-poverty schools to eliminate school meal applications and offer breakfast and lunch to all of their students at no charge. And as counties expand transit in Charlotte and in the Triangle, policymakers should incorporate equity components into the transit-planning process by coordinating such plans with affordable-housing policies and considering community benefits agreements.

In the absence of policy change, North Carolina will continue to contend with communities that are disconnected to the networks that improve economic mobility.



  1. Alex

    July 7, 2014 at 4:44 pm

    If you look at all of the economic groups in this country, Obama has succeeded in bringing each one down significantly in the last six years. His high regulation, cheap currency policies have wrecked the economy, and destroyed much of the middle class. The rich have gotten much richer, and the poor much poorer, exactly opposite from every thing he has said in his speeches. The Wall Street and banking one percenters are the only ones benefiting from these policies. My question is how long it will take some folks to realize this ?

  2. ML

    July 7, 2014 at 5:42 pm

    Here’s the fix, substitute republicans for Obama. Now that makes more sense.

  3. ML

    July 7, 2014 at 5:46 pm

    Either way Alex it sounds like you’re refuting the so-called North Carolina comeback. if Obama is the cause why is nc last? Has to be the republicans in NC.

  4. Alex

    July 7, 2014 at 7:27 pm

    Simple answer ML. I’m surprised you don’t get it. Obama’s economy takes down all of the states regardless of who is running them. The only ones doing well are the energy rich states that have petroleum and natural gas, and they did it alone with no help from Obama’s crew.

  5. ML

    July 7, 2014 at 7:40 pm

    While I certainly disagree that Obama has managed to bring down every states economy all by himself it doesn’t change the fact that we are still last.

    Let’s say every state (minus those energy rich states you claim are the exception) is brought down equally by Obama. Thus the picture doesn’t change, we would still be last regardless of who is president or how our national economy is doing. You MUST square that fact if you want to pass blame on those outside of our Republican leaders in NC.

  6. Alex

    July 8, 2014 at 11:29 am

    I’m amazed you can’t see the connection between a national economy that is going nowhere, and the problems faced by the states in trying to overcome this. A good example are the burdensome banking regulations that Democrats put on the mid-size and community banks that eventually put most of them out of business. These were the banks that actually loaned money to businesses and individuals on the state level. Obama ended up putting huge amounts in the big national banks who are more concerned with quick profits in the stock market, and care little about loaning the money in local communities.

  7. ML

    July 8, 2014 at 3:10 pm

    First off Bank of America is in Charlotte so while I agree with you that the bailout was a failure, in all likelyhood North Carolina benefitted from the bailouts perverse failures. Nonetheless the point here is that if we accept your premise that “Obama’s” economy is bringing down all of the states that are not energy rich, then explain why we are last amongst the remaining states?

    Unless you argue that Obama has, for some reason, targeted North Carolina and put more pressure on our economy than other states, you have to find another variable. The fact that we are last is a reflection of our leadership.

Check Also

Redesigning TANF to lift more families out of poverty

The 1996 welfare law that created Temporary Assistance ...

Top Stories from NCPW

  • News
  • Commentary

Chancellor's failure to share health department reopening recommendations called a "breach [...]

Burr and Tillis apparently still sticking with McConnell WASHINGTON – GOP Sen. Bill Cassidy of Louis [...]

Enrollment drops. Employee furloughs and layoffs. Faculty cuts. Shuttered athletic programs. UNC Sys [...]

Millions of children will begin the new school year learning from home due to the COVID-19 pandemic. [...]

I am a white woman, educated in Durham, by mostly white teachers. From preschool to high school, my [...]

In 1986, I was a recent seminary graduate and working with Oakland’s interfaith community. I was ear [...]

North Carolina is now almost five months into the massive societal disruption caused by the COVID-19 [...]

The post The latest buzz in 2020… appeared first on NC Policy Watch. [...]