New data today released from the US Census Bureau shows that 1.5 million North Carolinians lived in poverty in 2016. At 15.4 percent, the rate of poverty in N.C. has dropped by 1 percentage point from the previous year, yet still remains higher than pre-recession levels.
Income has followed similar trends to the poverty rate. The state’s medium income last year was $50,584, an increase from 2015, but still $1,130 less than the median income in 2007, after adjusting for inflation. This means that although our economy is recovering from the Great Recession, many NC families have yet to share in the state’s economic gains. Additionally, the data points to divides in our state, revealing that not everyone is impacted by poverty in equal ways. Serious barriers such as lack of access to quality education, housing segregation, and job and wage discrimination means some groups struggle economically more than others. Last year, 23.5 percent of African Americans, 27.3 percent of Latinx families, 25.5 percent of Native Americans, and 11.9 percent of Asian Americans experienced poverty compared to 10.8 percent of whites. Additionally, 21.7 percent of children experienced poverty and women experienced poverty at a rate 2.6 percentage points higher than men.
As grim as this data is, it tells an important story. Although we have seen positive gains in measures such as the unemployment rate, far too many North Carolinians are still being left behind in our state’s economic recovery. If we want to build an economy that works for everyone, lawmakers will have to ensure that we make adequate public investments in things such as income supports and higher education.