Poverty and Policy Matters

Poverty and Policy Matters

If you work, you deserve to get paid. Sadly, in these times, even that statement is controversial (just see all our wage theft work).

So if it’s hard to even get workers paid, period, it shouldn’t be surprising that there are still opponents to the idea that women deserve equal pay for equal work. Maddening, but not surprising.

Today is Equal Pay Day, and new article from WomenAdvanNCe highlights the all-too-trouble wage gap that still exists. The piece reports on some statistics you’ll have heard (nationally, women make 78 percent of the salary earned by men doing the same job) and some you may not have.

As is often the case, the numbers get most tragic and shocking when broken out by race:

For North Carolina women, the statistics are slightly better. We make 82 cents on the dollar on average, but those numbers plummet for minority women: African American women in North Carolina make 64 cents on the dollar, while Latina North Carolinians make less than half of what men make at 48 cents on the dollar.

Sad and angry about this? You have a right to be. Want a good laugh that makes this same, all-too-salient point? Check this out.


Poverty and Policy Matters

There are few situations in life that are clearly win-win. When you see one, you have to take advantage of it.

That’s why North Carolina should reverse course and expand Medicaid. When you have the chance to improve health care for hundreds of thousands of people and actually save money, you should jump on it.

In a recent News & Observer editorial, the paper called the decision not to expand Medicaid “wildly irresponsible and hugely expensive.” That’s precisely correct, and let’s explore the first part of the statement a bit more.

Turning down Medicaid expansion turns down $50 billion in federal funding and prevents roughly 400,000 of our neighbors from getting covered. That makes expanding Medicaid an obvious choice.

But also consider that preventative care saves money over the long run. Insuring people means they get to go to the doctor, which means we pay less to prevent disease. This leads to lower costs for taxpayers and better lives for our people. An excerpt from the N&O piece:

Community Care said in a news release: “The medical costs for low-birth-weight babies average $49,000 in a baby’s first year of life, or more than 10 times more than babies born without complications. A low birth weight also increases a child’s risk for long-term medical and developmental complications and the likelihood of incurring additional expenses for social services and educational needs in later years.”

Kate Berrien, manager of Community Care’s pregnancy project, said North Carolina now leads the South in having the fewest births before 39 weeks. That’s a lot of savings and a vast increase in the quality of life for many children born to low-income mothers. And it’s an achievement attributable to innovations in community-level care that were developed in North Carolina and are being adopted across the nation.

It’s a win-win situation. Tom Wroth, CCNC’s chief medical officer, said, “We’ve been able to align improving clinical quality with lower cost.”

Read that last paragraph again. Improving quality care with lower cost is a win-win. So is expanding Medicaid.

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