NC Budget and Tax Center

SNAP works for North Carolina’s children

The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) helps North Carolina families put food on the table. But we know now that it accomplishes much more than that.

Research increasingly shows that SNAP, formerly known as Food Stamps, can ward against the long-term effects on children experiencing poverty, abuse or neglect, parental substance abuse or mental illness, and exposure to violence — events that can take a toll on their well-being as adults.  As a new Center on Budget and Policy Priorities report finds, SNAP helps form a strong foundation of health and well-being for low-income children by lifting millions of families out of poverty, improving food security, and helping improve health and academic achievement with long-lasting consequences.

It’s doing all that across North Carolina. SNAP is improving our children’s futures.

SNAP delivers more nutrition assistance to low-income children than any other.  This year, SNAP will help about 20 million children each month — about one in four U.S. children — while providing about $30 billion in nutrition benefits for children over the course of the year. In North Carolina the impact is even greater. In 2014, SNAP helped about 663,000 children each month, or 29 percent of our state’s kids.

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SNAP’s benefits are modest, but they’re well-targeted to children and families that need them the most. While households across the state receive an average of $255 each month, families with children get $390 on average. Furthermore, families experiencing deep poverty receive higher benefits.[i] In 2014, SNAP benefits lifted over 96,000 families out of deep poverty. It’s no surprise that SNAP helps lift more children out of deep poverty than any other government assistance program.

In fact, much of SNAP’s success can be attributed to its design, including that consistent national structure that effectively targets food benefits to those with the greatest need; eligibility rules and a funding structure that make benefits available to children in almost all families with little income and few resources; a design that automatically responds to changes in the economy; and rigorous requirements to ensure a high degree of program integrity.

SNAP is helping to give thousands of North Carolina’s children the foundation they need to succeed. Efforts to reform or enhance it should build on its effectiveness in protecting the well-being of our children — and those nationwide — and preserve the essential program features that contribute to that success.

[i] Deep poverty is defined as income at or below 50 percent of the Federal Poverty Line

NC Budget and Tax Center

Higher earnings and decreased poverty point to a slow but positive recovery

New data from the Census Bureau’s Current Population Survey sheds new light on the nations and North Carolina’s efforts at economic recovery. Here are a few takeaways from the nation-wide data:

  • Between 2014 and 2015, the national poverty rate decreased by 1.2 percent, bringing the official rate down to 13.5 percent, or 43.1 million people. This is not insignificant as it is the largest annual poverty rate decrease since 1999.
  • In 2015, median household incomes rose to $56,516, 5.2 percent higher than in 2014. This is the first year in which median household incomes have increased since 2007, a year before the recession began.
  • Not everyone has benefited from these positive national trends. Despite an overall increase in income, household earnings in rural communities across the nation remained unchanged. Additionally, income inequality, the gap between the wealthy and the poor, has remained the same.

Although state-level data released today is a preliminary estimate, it too paints a picture of slow, relative progress:

  • The CPS estimates that 15.3 percent of North Carolinians were in poverty in 2015. That is down from 17.1 percent in 2014.
  • While it appears that poverty is decreasing, it is still well above pre-recession levels. Additionally, North Carolina still lags behind its neighbor, South Carolina, which saw a 2.2 percent decrease in poverty from 2014 to 2015.

Robert Greenstein, president of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, praises the positive national measures and highlights important policy choices to ensure this growth continues:

“The welcome progress of 2015 reflects both reasonably “tight” labor markets and improved government policies.  As the economy neared full employment, average real earnings rose.  In addition, state and local minimum wage increases gave many low-income workers a further income boost.  And health reform reversed the once-stubborn trend of shrinking health insurance coverage, fueling coverage expansions.  Even so, standards of living still haven’t fully rebounded to where they were before the Great Recession caused income to fall and poverty to rise substantially….

To sustain across-the-board progress, the Federal Reserve should continue to promote tight labor markets, especially given continued low inflation.  In addition, federal policymakers should move forward as planned to implement a new rule making more salaried workers with moderate incomes eligible for overtime, and the President and Congress at long last should raise the federal minimum wage, which has lost considerable purchasing power.  Policymakers also should further expand refundable tax credits for the working poor and expand access to child care for low-income families with children.”

While there is much to celebrate, there is still plenty of work still to be done.

As Elise Gould, Senior Economist at the Economic Policy Institute, points out, “It is certainly a good start. But, we’ll need a run of years like this to restore the income losses suffered during the Great Recession for most American families, let alone make up for a generation of income growth that lagged far behind the economy’s potential.”

NC Budget and Tax Center

More than 20 percent of NC students attend a high-poverty school

According to data from the National Equity Atlas, one out of every five children in North Carolina attends a high-poverty school. Among students of color, that number is one in three. High-poverty schools are defined as schools in which 75 percent or more of the student body qualifies for the federal free or reduced priced lunch program. Because many high-poverty schools are faced with having limited resources to educate and care for students who often need extra supports, they often struggle to provide a quality education equal to their middle-class and wealthier counterparts.

The concentration of low-income students in high-poverty schools cannot simply be explained as a rise in poverty. Over the past decade, North Carolina has seen only a modest increase in the number of students who are eligible to receive free or reduced lunch. Prior to the beginning of the recession, just over 48 percent of students applied for the free or reduced lunch program in the 2007-08 school year. That number peaked at 58 percent in 2013 school year and has since decreased to 53 percent this past year.  In the same time period, the percentage of students enrolled in high-poverty schools has nearly doubled.

Rather than an increase in the number of low-income households, concentrated high-poverty schools are often the result of economic and racial segregation. Rising income inequality and a deterioration of the social safety net has contributed to a decline in middle class and mixed-income neighborhoods. Although this trend in socioeconomic and racial segregation is not exclusive to North Carolina, it is particularly damaging in a state that ranks 43rd in the nation in per pupil funding. To make matters worse, there are large gaps in per pupil spending across counties; in 2012, the highest spending county spent $2,280 more per student than the lowest-spending county.

The gap in student achievement between low- and high-income students has grown. A large part of this expanding achievement gap is explained by the increasing segregation of schools. If we do not address the proliferation of high-poverty schools, many of our students will leave high school unprepared for post-secondary education and underqualified to participate in the workforce.

While a the achievement gap and an unprepared workforce are real problems, the reality is that the increased concentration of students in high-poverty schools is only a symptom of a larger issue. When we fail to make adequate public investments and address systemic barriers, inequality expands and opportunity shrinks. And far too often, children, especially children of color, pay the costs.

Commentary

Happy Birthday, Social Security!

Social SecurityEighty years ago today, President Roosevelt signed into law the Social Security Act, creating one of our nation’s most important social programs. Since 1935, Social Security has kept millions of working Americans out of poverty, allowing them to live with dignity through the difficulties of old age or the loss of spouses and parents. Today, the program lifts nearly 15 million seniors and 1.2 million children out of poverty.

For years, retirees have relied on a combination of Social Security, employer pensions, and other savings, to support their retirement. Over the past few decades, the number of employers who provide pensions have decreased. Additionally, stagnant wages and wealth inequality mean many working people are unable to save enough during their work-life to support them throughout retirement.

A recent report from the U.S. General Accounting Office shows that across the nation, 29% of people age 55 or older have neither an employer pension nor any type of retirement savings. North Carolina is no exception. Between 2001 and 2013, the percentage of employees without employer provided pensions rose continuously. Today, more than 60% of working North Carolinians over 18 have no employer pensions, and one in three retirees depends on Social Security benefits as their only source of retirement income.

More than ever before, Social Security benefits are a crucial staple in retirement security.

Social Security does much more than fund retirement. Read more

Commentary

Taking back the narrative: The power of storytelling and home-grown solutions

Glowing computer screens, florescent lights, spreadsheets, graphs and charts. That’s how many of us spend our day. In the age of instant information, we rely on numbers and statistics and reports to paint pictures of the world that lies beyond the view of our office window. And we’ve gotten good at it. We understand wage and employment trends and we can measure equality and growth.

Despite the growing capacity to track and measure and capture data, we’re still failing to understand the whole picture. This is especially true when it comes to understanding North Carolina’s small and rural communities. The voices from these communities are often absent from the problem solving table. As a result, decisions are typically made on behalf of these communities based off of our imperfect understanding of what their needs and wants truly are.

Last week I enjoyed some time outside of the office and beyond the Triangle. I walked on a wooden suspension bridge that spans the Tar River, traced the Greenway on a map that connected the River to downtown, and heard about the efforts to revitalize the downtown and local economy through attracting private capital and investing public dollars.

I was in Rocky Mount. I was excited to see the kinds of ways that grassroots leaders, city officials and planners and business owners are reimagining their city and with it the region.

Over the past few years, Edgecombe and Nash counties have received national notoriety for their crime rates and poverty levels. And while these counties face very real difficulties, the negative stories do not represent the reality of the entire region or the recent efforts that are beginning to bear fruit. Residents and local leaders are beginning to take back the narrative of their community.

Residents of Nash and Edgecombe have launched an effort to take their name back and tell their own stories of their communities, one that moves beyond statistics and fear toward collaboration and hope. In 2013, a citizen group, called The Positive Image Action Group, was formed to combat those negative images and to tell the story of their hometown from their perspective. Earlier this month, the group launched the first phase of a campaign to take back the name of the twin counties.

“Twin Counties – Here’s to Success” is a marketing campaign designed to highlight the positive and promising stories of citizens and business in Edgecombe and Nash County. Read more