Commentary

Gene Nichol: North Carolina’s brutal treatment of the poor

Time for NC to stop “trying to out Mississippi Mississippi”

In case you missed it yesterday, the McClatchy papers in Charlotte and Raleigh featured the latest excellent op-ed from UNC law professor Gene Nichol. In “For the struggling, a long hard run in NC,” Nichol offers yet another powerful indictment of the policies of the state’s conservative-led General Assembly.

First, Nichol catalogues some of the dreadful suffering that now afflicts so many in our state:

  • Over 1.1 million North Carolina adults are presently experiencing food hardship – unable to get enough to eat.
  • 43% of Tar Heel Latinx households, 51% of Black families and 36% of white ones have lost employment income.
  • Among renters 36% of Hispanic, 16% of white and 10% of black Tar Heels have been forced to miss rental payments.
  • Thirteen percent of all Tar Heel adults are without health coverage, 18% of all adults aged 18-65. Thirty-eight percent of North Carolina Latinos have no health insurance, 15% of African-Americans and 9% of whites.
He then concludes by asking North Carolinians to reconsider their support for a legislature that allows — and, indeed, aggressively enables — such suffering:

Refusing Medicaid expansion is but one of their hallmarks, though it’s admittedly the most brutal one. Over the last decade our lawmakers have expressed pride in having assured that North Carolina now has the stingiest unemployment compensation program in the country. They made us the only state to ever abolish its earned income tax credit – thus raising the tax bill for working families making about $35,000 a year. They kicked thousands of poor kids off the food stamp program though it saved us not a penny, since the federal government pays the tab. They zeroed out the legal aid appropriation because lawyers were being too zealous in representing poor people. This is what Thom Tillis described as his program to “divide and conquer”.

I looked at the list, this week, of the ten states with the greatest hunger problems. There we were, of course, prominently displayed. We were ranked alongside our usual running buddies – Mississippi, Alabama, Louisiana, Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas. Most entrants had one notable common marker, membership in the Confederacy. That doesn’t seem like coincidence.

We’ve had a long hard run now with a Republican legislature trying to out Mississippi Mississippi, out Alabama Alabama, and out Texas Texas.

Surely, Nichol says, North Carolina can do better. Click here to read the entire essay.

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