Poverty and Policy Matters

NC Budget and Tax Center, Poverty and Policy Matters

When the Wall Street house of risk came crashing down in 2007, it wrecked local economies across North Carolina. Business finance dried up, people and businesses bought less, home values took a hit, and so employment dropped, sharply. Along with the rest of the U.S., we have seen the worst days of the recession pass and some stability and growth return. Business credit is still tight, consumer spending looks to be getting stronger, and the housing market is definitely on the rise again, but employment has been very slow to grow.

We’ve heard a lot about the “Carolina Comeback” recently, and expect to hear even more during 2015. The story generally goes that slashing state taxes and spending has resurrected an economy that was broken by federal policy, not to mention a century of democratic rule in the legislature. The problem with this story is that the comeback is a national one, most of which has nothing to do with changes to North Carolina policy.  A far better explanation, as can be seen in the charts below, is that the current recovery is neither robust nor unique to North Carolina, but instead follows the national and regional trajectory.

2014 End of Year Charts_slowest recovery in generations

Compared to the previous three major recessions, the current recovery has been stubbornly sluggish. It took more than five years for our state to get the jobs that were lost during the recession back, where the damage from the previous three recessions was repaired in less than half that time.

If the first chart looks familiar, it should. National employment trends over the last several recessions look very similar to what we have seen in North Carolina. This brings us to the second problem with the Carolina Comeback myth, it is not a Carolina story.

2014 End of Year Charts_regional job growth

As can be seen below, North Carolina employment has generally followed the same trend as other states in the southeast. From 2000 on, the share of working age people who have employment has declined, with a particularly sharp drop in 2008 and 2009 as the Great Recession hit. Over the last few years, employment growth in North Carolina has been modestly stronger than most states in the Southeast, but even after these comparatively strong years, North Carolina remains decidedly middle of the pack.

All told, there just isn’t much real evidence of a distinctly Carolina Comeback. The recovery has been agonizingly slow in North Carolina as it has been across the country. Credit and blame do not have a home address, they knock on many doors and visit many living rooms. We have a lot to do as a state and as a country to adapt to the 21st century economic system. Moving into 2015, we should focus on what can be done to address the problems that remain, rather than trying to wish them away with nice sounding phrases.

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

Falling Behind in NC, NC Budget and Tax Center, Poverty and Income Data 2013, Poverty and Policy Matters

New data released by the US Census highlight the pervasiveness of poverty nationally and in North Carolina. In 2013, one in six North Carolinians lived below the federal poverty rate – less than $24,000 a year for a family of four and  $12,000 a year for an individual. For communities of color, the poverty rate is far worse: 32.5 percent for Latinos, 28.9 percent for American Indians, and 28 percent for African Americans.

These daunting poverty rates highlight that far too many individuals and families across the state face economic hardship. The persistence of poverty has been accompanied by a rise in income inequality, which poses consequential implications for the overall economy and North Carolina’s state economy. The bulk of economic gains from the ongoing economic recovery have flowed to a small group of high-income earners. In the first three years of the economic recovery, the top 1 percent of income earners captured 95 percent of the income gains nationally. Here in North Carolina, income for the top 1 percent of income earners in the state grew by 6.2 percent from 2009 to 2011 while the bottom 99 percent saw their income decline by 2.9 percent. The latest US Census data show that this early post recovery trend is likely to hold. By 2013, the top 20 percent of households in North Carolina captured more than half of all income earned by all households in the state (see graphic below). Read More

NC Budget and Tax Center, Poverty and Income Data 2013, Poverty and Policy Matters

Children face the highest poverty rate in North Carolina compared to other age groups according to data released last week by the US Census Bureau. After more than five years into an economic recovery, one in four children (25.2%) in North Carolina remained in poverty in 2013 –unchanged from 2012 and higher than the national child poverty rate (22%). At a time when we are experiencing an economic recovery, it is troubling that our state’s child poverty rate is not declining and remains significantly higher than the national average.

The numbers become even more meaningful when considering the disadvantages children in poverty face: less access to early education programs and high quality schools, food insecurity, higher stress levels and higher dropout rates, among other risk factors. Recent findings in brain development research also warn of the impact of toxic stress associated with poverty on a young child’s developing brain. Toxic stress can weaken the architecture of a child’s brain, creating long-term challenges that make it hard for one to be economically secure as an adult. Other numbers are rising for children across the nation and in North Carolina that we certainly don’t want to see on the rise. Infant mortality and child mortality has increased in North Carolina. There has also been a rise in the number of homeless school children, according to recently released national data. Both are indicators of poverty’s tight grasp on America’s and North Carolina’s children.

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NC Budget and Tax Center, Poverty and Policy Matters

With a new school year approaching, many local school boards across North Carolina will join an effort to help end childhood hunger. For the 2014-15 school year the nation-wide Community Eligibility Program (CEP) allows high-poverty North Carolina schools to eliminate collecting school meal applications and offer breakfast and lunch to all of their students at no charge.

One in five American schoolchildren can’t count on getting enough nutritious food at home, which can have a negative impact on a student’s academic performance and development. Ensuring that children show up in classrooms each day fed and ready to learn increases the chances of students being more focused, attentive, and engaged.

At least 36 school systems across North Carolina have confirmed their plans to adopt CEP for the upcoming school year. (See map below) Some local school boards plan to adopt CEP district-wide while others will offer a universal meal program in selected schools within their district.

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A big kudos goes to these school systems that will adopt CEP next year. This serves as a positive step in helping ensure that all North Carolina students are afforded a high-quality, enriching education.

A listing of all North Carolina school districts and individual schools that are eligible for community eligibility for the 2014-15 school year can be found via the NC Department of Public Instruction website.