NC Budget and Tax Center

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.

NC Budget and Tax Center, Poverty and Policy Matters

This school year, high-poverty schools across North Carolina will provide breakfast and lunch meals at no cost to students. As part of a laudable effort to eliminate child hunger, nearly 650 public schools have adopted a universal meal program that ensures that every child receives two nutritious meals each day and show up to class ready to learn. These schools serve more than 310,000 students – around 1 in every 5 students in public schools.

Schools in North Carolina that have adopted a universal meal program are part of a nation-wide initiative known as Community Eligibility, which aims to increase participation rates in breakfast and lunch programs in high-poverty schools. Children who show up to class with food in their stomach are inclined to be more focused and attentive, less distracted, and more engaged. Simply put, a child well-fed is better prepared to learn. Read More

NC Budget and Tax Center

North Carolina’s unemployment insurance debt is being paid down, but a little recognized fact is that it is workers who have contributed the most towards its repayment not employers.

The debt itself was a result of the historic job loss of the Great Recession and the tax cuts that were provided to employers during good times that left the unemployment insurance trust fund underfunded when it was needed the most. Borrowing from the federal government was the only way in which the state could meet its commitment to provide workers who had lost their jobs through no fault of their own with a temporary and partial replacement of their wages until the economy recovered.

Unemployment insurance payments not only mitigated even worse fallout from the Great Recession for workers and their families, it likely stopped a further decline in consumer spending and the resulting spiral of job loss that would have hit businesses harder and made the economic recovery even longer for everyone.

North Carolina policymakers took these economic conditions and the debt as a reason to enact some of the harshest cuts to unemployment insurance, many of which are unlike what any other state does in designing their unemployment insurance systems. Among the results: jobless workers receive just 14 weeks of unemployment insurance, half of the 26 weeks most states offer, and $300 less each month on average in benefits, far less than what is needed to maintain their spending and meet a family’s most basic needs. These changes and others delivered “savings” that translated into nearly two-thirds of the debt being repaid by workers.

The waiver that North Carolina recBTC - Changes to UI Benefitseived this week will mean that employers won’t receive a federal penalty for holding debt given that the state is likely to pay down the debt by May 2015. That penalty was the primary way in which employers were contributing to the debt repayment as can be seen in the chart above. State tax changes under the 2013 changes represented just 0.7 percent of total contributions by employers. Read More

NC Budget and Tax Center

Last week voters in four states–Arkansas, Alaska, Nebraska and South Dakota–approved minimum wage increases that will address in part the eroding value of their state’s minimum wage for workers earning at the lowest end of the wage distribution.  As of January 1st, at least 25 states will have minimum wages higher than the federal level of $7.25.

It turns out voters and state policymakers recognize that the wage floor must have some connection to what workers need to make ends meet and what wage conditions are in the labor market overall.

At Prosperity Watch this week, the Budget & Tax Center looked at the minimum wage to median wage ratio in North Carolina over time.  This ratio signals the strength of a minimum wage relative to local labor market conditions.  The lower the ratio, the fewer goods and services a worker can purchase for every additional hour worked. North Carolina’s minimum wage to median wage ratio fell from 64.4 percent in 1979 to 41.2 percent in 2013.  Find out more at Prosperity Watch here.

NC Budget and Tax Center

As we honor the service and sacrifices made by veterans today to protect our freedom and the American Dream, we should not forget that for too many veterans the American Dream remains out of reach. Some veterans and their families face the same economic struggles of the many families working to make ends meet and provide a better opportunity for their children in today’s economy, an economy characterized by high unemployment and low-wage work. For veterans, like their non-veteran neighbors, public policies have proven effective at improving their opportunity to meet basic needs and get ahead. And when policy choices have sought to limit access to health care or supports for workers earning low-wages, for example, veterans have also been hurt.

Veterans overall have a lower unemployment level than the national average, nearly one percentage point lower. But as of October 2014 Gulf War II-era veterans—those who served in Iraq and Afghanistan—had a 7.2 percent unemployment rate, representing a full 188,000 veterans who are out of work. Young veterans have also been disproportionately impacted by the lack of jobs. In 2013, 24.3 percent of male veterans between 18 and 24 years old and 14.3 percent of female veterans between 18 and 24 years old were unemployed. Given the large presence of military bases in North Carolina and active duty personnel it is not surprising that North Carolina’s veteran unemployment rate is slightly lower than these national numbers with an unemployment rate for Gulf War II-era veterans at 6.5 percent as of 2013.

For those veterans in North Carolina who are working, median income is $35,080 higher than that the income of nonveterans ($23,193) but still nearly $15,000 short of what it takes for a family of four to make ends meet according to the Living Income Standard. One in thirteen veterans in North Carolina live in poverty compared to one in five North Carolinians overall.

Absent public policies targeted at increasing access to opportunity for veterans it is likely that economic hardship would be far greater for these Americans. Read More