North Carolina is enduring a painfully slow economic recovery. There are too few jobs open for all of the people looking for work, and the majority of the new jobs available pay wages so low that families can’t make ends meet. The ongoing economic hardship is evidenced in new data released last week by the Census Bureau. Statewide, the poverty rate held steady at 17.9 percent in 2013, with more than 1.7 million North Carolinians living on incomes below the federal poverty level. That’s about $24,000 annually for a family of four—certainly not enough to pay all the bills, much less get ahead.
However, just looking at statewide averages can mask the concentrations of hardship in particular geographic communities. A large and growing body of research shows that where one lives can determine if one has access to the educational and employment networks that can pave a pathway to the middle class. Because place is deeply connected to the opportunity structure, it important to analyze county-level (as well as neighborhood-level) variances in poverty.
Of the 40 counties in North Carolina for which 2013 data is available, 15 are urban and 25 are rural (based on population size).* Nine of the ten counties with the highest poverty rates were rural counties, which continue to face job loss and struggle with the consequences of the exodus of manufacturing jobs. The highest county-level poverty rate was in Robeson County, where nearly 1 in 3 residents lived in poverty. In fact, Robeson County consistently ranks as the poorest county in the state and as one of the poorest in the nation. Read More