NC Budget and Tax Center

New census data: High poverty rates persist in NC despite modest growth

The latest from the N.C. Budget and Tax Center:

Last year, 1.47 million North Carolinians lived in poverty and struggled to make ends meet, according to new data released today from the U.S. Census Bureau. People and communities across the state still face barriers to getting ahead such as lack of access to good-paying jobs, unaffordable childcare, little access to public transportation to get to work, and inadequate education and job training resources.

Despite low rates of unemployment and improving GDP, far too many North Carolinians are being left out of the state’s economic recovery. In fact, 2017 marked the 10th year that poverty has failed to fall below pre-recession levels. In 2017, 14.7 percent of North Carolinians lived in poverty, living on less than $25,100 a year for a family of four. More than 1 in 5 kids in North Carolina are growing up in families that can’t give them a good start to in life because they are paid wages too low to afford the basics.

“Regardless of signs of economic growth, far too many North Carolina families still struggle to afford the basics,” said Brian Kennedy II, Policy Analyst with the Budget & Tax Center, a project of the NC Justice Center. “The fact that we’ve failed to drop below pre-recession levels after a decade of recovery is an indication of growing inequality and poor policy choices.”

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

  • North Carolina’s poverty rate is 1.3 percentage points higher than the U.S. poverty rate, and it has the 14th highest poverty rate in the nation, including Washington, D.C.
  • The state poverty rate (14.7 percent) declined by less than one percentage point over the past year and remains just slightly higher than 2007, before the Great Recession hit.
  • The state’s median income ($52,752) increased by $2,168 from 2016. Despite this increase, the typical North Carolina household still makes $189 less today than in 2007, meaning there has no progress in raising middle class living standards for the average North Carolinian since the beginning of the Great Recession.
  • 6.5 percent of North Carolinians live in extreme poverty, which means they live below less than half of the poverty line—or about $12,500 a year for a family of four.

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

  • Communities of color face significant barriers in our state, including lack of access to quality education, housing segregation, and discrimination. The result is that they are more likely to struggle economically than whites. For example, in North Carolina, 22 percent of African Americans live below the official poverty line ($25,100 for a family of 4) compared with 10.6 percent of whites. Also, 27.1 percent of Latinx North Carolinians, 25.4 of American Indians, and 12.2 percent of Asian Americans live in poverty. This means that many aren’t sharing in our economic gains or able to fully contribute to the economic health of our community.
  • Children continue to experience higher rates of poverty than adults. In 2017, 21.2 percent, or 1 in 5 children, lived in poverty compared to 9.1 percent of adults aged 65 and older.
  • Women face higher poverty rates than men, 16 percent compared to 13.3 percent, respectively.

“Addressing poverty through proven policies that connect people to good jobs and reduce the harmful effects of hardship can boost our economy and improve the well-being of our state,” adds Kennedy.

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