Commentary, News

Latest disturbing Census data: One in six North Carolinians (including one in four kids) lives in poverty

A new release from colleagues at the NC Justice Center shines a light on the dreadful reality of the North Carolina economy for more than a million and a half people:

More than 1.6 million North Carolinians lived in poverty and struggled to make ends meet in 2015, according to new data released today from the Census Bureau. Families across the state wake up to financial insecurity every day as the shortage of jobs paying family-supporting wages persists and the gap between the wealthy and everyone else widens.

One in 6 North Carolinians lived in poverty in 2015, living on less than $24,250 a year for a family of four. Nearly 1 in 4 North Carolina kids are growing up in families that can’t give them a good start in life because they make so little. Although there were small improvements between 2014 and 2015, the number of people struggling to pay the bills remains high — and it’s holding back our economy and hampering Tar Heel kids’ futures.

“Our success as a state depends on ensuring economic opportunity for everyone,” said Tazra Mitchell, a Policy Analyst at the Budget & Tax Center, a project of the NC Justice Center. “Paying workers enough to make ends meet, having quality child care for their young kids so they can go to work, being able to see a doctor and stay healthy—all of these things build economic security and thriving communities.”

The new Census data show that North Carolina’s families are dealing with high rates of poverty, modest income growth, and widespread income inequality:

  • North Carolina’s poverty rate is 1.7 percentage points higher than the U.S. poverty rate, and has the 12th highest poverty rate in the nation.
  • The state poverty rate (16.4 percent) declined by eight-tenths of a percentage point over the last year but remains 2.1 percentage points higher than 2007 when the Great Recession hit.
  • The state’s median income ($47,830) increased by $1,245 over 2014, meaning this is the first time NC has seen year-over-year  progress in raising middle class living standards for the average North Carolinian since 2007.
  • More than 7 percent of North Carolinians live in extreme poverty, which means they live below less than half of the poverty line—or about $12,125 a year for a family of four.
  • The richest 5 percent of the state’s households had an average income that was nearly 27 times greater than that of the poorest fifth of households and more than six times greater than that of the middle fifth of households in 2015.

The data also show that poverty continues to hit some groups harder:

  • Child poverty did not improve over the last year in North Carolina (but did across the nation), and children continue to have the highest poverty rate (23.5 percent) compared to other age groups. Nearly 1 in 4 children live in poverty compared to nearly 1 in 10 older adults.
  • People of color are much more likely to struggle below the poverty line: 30.8 percent of Latinos, 25.7 of American Indians, and 25.3 percent of African Americans live in poverty while 12.6 percent of Asians and 11.3 percent of non-Hispanic whites live in poverty.
  • Women face higher poverty rates than men: 17.8 percent compared to 14.9 percent, respectively.

Major public investments at the federal level played a powerful role in building opportunity and helping people build a more secure future, according to the Census data:

  • Work and income supports reduce the number of Americans living in poverty by nearly half and boost economic mobility. These supports lifted 38 million Americans—including 8 million children—out of poverty in 2015, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities’ analysis of the new Census data.

“North Carolina needs policies that create equal opportunity, rebuild entryways to expand the ranks of the middle class, and ensure that prosperity is broadly shared so that all North Carolinians can afford the basics,” said Alexandra Sirota, Director of the Budget & Tax Center.

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