NC Budget and Tax Center

The stories of children held back from pursuing educational opportunities, of families separated and weakened by deportations or their threat, of communities uncertain how to integrate and engage immigrants, provide the most compelling support for President Obama’s announcement of a new proposal to grant temporary, limited immigration status to certain immigrant families.

To complement these stories, however, data from the Migration Policy Institute details the potential numbers of individuals who this proposal could reach nationwide and in North Carolina. Approximately 117,000 parents in North Carolina would be eligible for the new deferred action program and another 38,000 young people would be eligible immediately for the expanded Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals. In total, this policy has the potential to reach a little more than 40 percent of the state’s total population of immigrants who are undocumented. Read More

NC Budget and Tax Center

Coverage of the latest labor market release on Friday has focused on the fact that the state has replaced all the jobs lost in the Great Recession, a milestone achieved after nearly seven years since that recession started.  There is still much progress to be made to achieve a full recovery in the labor market.

BTC - Missing Workers October 2014The latest calculation of the number of missing workers in North Carolina, those who would be looking for work if employment opportunities were stronger, makes clear the challenges that persist.  There are nearly 290,000 workers missing from North Carolina’s labor market.  If these workers were included in the unemployment rate, that rate would be 12.5 percent, nearly twice the official unemployment rate.

NC Budget and Tax Center

As I wrote about last week, it is increasingly urgent that emphasis be put on facts as the foundation of policymaking. And there are some great data tools out there to support identification of the issues facing North Carolina’s communities and the most effective solutions.

One such tool is the USDA Food Atlas which provides local data on various measures of food access, security and production. Food insecurity is increasingly considered in this season where so many will focus on preparing holiday meals and too many will continue to struggle to put food on the table.

The Food Atlas provides a comprehensive look at the various dimensions that contribute to food insecurity and nutrition from the location of grocery stores to fast food restaurants to the production of food and access to fresh, local produce.

Here are a few to ponder as we head into the Thanksgiving holiday. Read More

NC Budget and Tax Center

As our minds turn to food in preparation for Thanksgiving, there continue to be too many North Carolinians who struggle to bring food to the table each and every day. For these families, a lack of resources represents the greatest challenge in ensuring nutritious meals are available but another factor is access and proximity to stores that sell food.

North Carolina’s food deserts, or areas where access to food is made difficult by distance to store locations, can be found in both urban and rural settings. They affect more than 1.5 million North Carolinians and nearly 350 neighborhoods (or census tracts). For people living in a food desert, there is an association with poorer health outcomes such as diabetes and cardiovascular disease as well as an increased likelihood to having difficulty putting food on the table.

Like community-eligibility that targets students in schools, there are effective place-based initiatives that can address hunger in North Carolina’s communities by reducing the number of food deserts. Some initiatives have already been piloted here in NC, others have been established in other states and still others are being developed by local community leaders in North Carolina right now.

  1. Provide convenience store owners with loans to support equipment and food purchases that increase access to healthy food options. Pitt County health department has had success in supporting convenience stores as they provide greater food options and business owners have found this expansion of their inventory to be profitable.
  2. Establish a Healthy Food Financing Fund at the state level to provide favorable loan terms or grants to businesses committed to locating in food deserts and actively serving low-income residents. Already the federal government has provided funding for private loans that support financing projects that locate food outlets in food deserts and North Carolina’s State Employee’s Credit Union has benefited. In other states, like Pennsylvania, where state level funds have been established, outcomes have extended beyond addressing hunger. Eighty-eight new or improved grocery stores have been located in underserved communities, impacting 400,000 residents. but In addition, 5,000 jobs have been created or retained and an additional $540,000 in local tax revenue was generated from a single store in Philadelphia.
  3. Reduce barriers to local grassroots efforts to form food cooperatives in food deserts in the state. Already in Greensboro and Raleigh neighborhood leaders are pursuing the establishment of grocery stores cooperatively owned to serve their communities that currently lack healthy food options. But as was presented at the recent state House legislative Committee on Food Desert Zones, there are barriers to establishing cooperatives that could be addressed through state policy so that more communities could come together to address hunger and food access.

Policies can support our state’s work to ensure that no child goes hungry and no family struggles to put food on the table. Above are just a few ideas that should be on the table in 2015 as policymakers work to address the challenges that North Carolinians face in accessing nutritious meals. The benefits to those families extend into the community and strengthen our economy’s capacity for job creation and growth.

Commentary

Facts matter in policymaking. A growing number of data tools are available to help inform policymakers and the public of local conditions and trends so that policies to respond can be data-driven and achieve better, efficient results.  The latest tool is the Opportunity Index released annually by the Opportunity Nation and Measure of America.  This interactive website provides state and county level data on economic, education and civic factors that inform us about the levels of opportunity for residents.

North Carolina ranks 35th in the nation in terms of its level of opportunity with a total score of 50.6 below the national average of 52.8.  The good news is that North Carolina’s score has improved since 2011 when the Opportunity Nation and Measure of America first released the index but this improvement, by 3.1 percentage points, was insufficient progress relative to other states to move our state up significantly in the rankings.  NC was ranked 36th in 2011.

A few indicators were clearly moving in the wrong direction for North Carolina over this period:  poverty increased from 16.3 percent to 18 percent, median household income declined by more than $2,000 and the number of 3- and 4- year olds in public or private preschool fell from 46.7 percent to 42.2 percent. Read More