North Carolina is losing ground on key economic indicators such as child poverty and family economic security. A new report from NC Child paints a bleak picture of how children are suffering from the fallout of an economy that is downright broken for many North Carolina families, as well as state lawmakers’ recent policy decisions. Genuine progress is within the state’s reach if lawmakers make smart investments and enact better policy choices.
More than a half of a million children belong to families that are living in poverty and struggling to pay the bills, even though the state just entered into the sixth year of the official economic recovery. In fact, child poverty is higher now than it was when the recession hit: 1 in 4 children currently live in poverty compared to 1 in 5 children in 2008. And, poverty has the fiercest grip on children of color and children under age five here and across the United States.
Previous research shows that three-quarters of these children have at least one parent that works, but low wages and unstable employment keep families in the economic struggle. This economic reality is further confirmed in the NC Child report, which finds that nearly 1 in 3 children live in families that lack secure employment, an increase since the recession hit. The state’s economy is neither producing enough jobs for everyone who wants to work nor quality jobs that can sustain the basic needs of a family. That must change to improve economic well-being among children and families—which is why advocates and workers are calling for better wages this week as part of the #WageWeek social media campaign.
Children growing up in low-income families—and the stress and inequality of opportunity that comes with it—are at greater risk for academic, health, and social struggles down the road. As Laila Bell, the Director of Research and Data at NC Child, pointed out in her report, “Poverty poses a significant threat to child development that leaves children at risk for long-term challenges including poor physical and mental health, teenage childbearing and lower earnings.”
Children’s economic hardship keeps all of us from achieving a better economic future. Yet, lawmakers are dismantling public policies that help families at virtually every stage of life. Bell noted that lawmakers’ decision to allow the state Earned Income Tax Credit to expire “exacerbated” the economic hardships that children and families were already facing. The credit benefited nearly 1 million working families and their 1.2 million children. In addition, lawmakers’ decision to cut access to child care assistance for 6,000 school-age children will not improve economic security for children and families.
One bright spot of the report is North Carolina’s improvements on seven out of eight non-economic measures of child well-being. Children in the state have improved access to health insurance, on-time graduation rates, and rates of reading proficiency among fourth graders. Bell notes these gains reflect previous investments implemented through evidence-based public policies and programs. Across all indicators, North Carolina ranks 35th in the country for overall child well-being, ahead of all neighboring states except Virginia.
See the Kids Count profile for North Carolina here.