Poverty and Policy Matters

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

This is the ninth post in a series that takes a detailed look at the 2013 US Census Bureau poverty data released on September 18th. Previous posts examined: 1) how North Carolina is faring overall; 2) how poverty varies by race, 3) poverty by County; 4) child poverty; 5) the impact, or lack thereof, of the current economic recovery on poverty in our state; 6) the public success of Social Security in bringing down poverty rates for older North Carolinians; and 7) poverty among working-age North Carolinians; and 8) work and income supports help combat poverty.

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 Policy Matters

This is the fourth post in a series that takes a detailed look at the 2013 US Census Bureau poverty data released on September 18th. The first post looked at how North Carolina is faring overall. The second post looked at how poverty varies by race, and the third post compared poverty by counties in North Carolina. 

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.

Poverty and Policy Matters

In 20 states, undocumented students that graduate from an in-state high school can go to college for in-state tuition. Studies show that these states are reaping serious economic benefits — and a new report shows why it’s time for North Carolina to join them.

Given the demographic and economic changes driving the state’s need for an educated workforce, tuition equity is a cost-effective way to make sure North Carolina isn’t left behind. The report, released today by the Budget & Tax Center, does a great job of presenting the facts and dispelling myths. 

According to Alexandra Sirota, director of the Budget & Tax Center and one of the report’s authors, we need tuition equity to prepare our state’s workforce for the jobs of the future.

“Tuition equity is an important tool for furthering the state’s goal of increasing the education of its residents and ensuring that the workforce is ready for the jobs of the future,” Sirota said. “By lowering the cost barrier to college for undocumented students, North Carolina will come out ahead, with minimal costs and strong economic benefits.”

Read the whole news release here, and the report here.

Poverty and Policy Matters

We use tools to fix things. Just like you’d use literal tools to improve your house, we all use metaphorical tools to improve our lives.

Money is a tool. You would expect a fabulously wealthy technology executive turned venture capitalist to understand this. You might not expect said one-percenter to shout it from a media platform. That’s just what Chamath Palihapitiya has done, though, in this fascinating story about his journey from welfare to wealth.

Two pieces of this story fascinate me. First, Palihapitiya is explicit about the role that affordable health care and subsidized university tuition played in his ability to succeed. Without these tools, his family would have been worried about basic survival, not figuring out how to contribute to the technologies of the future.

The second piece is related: without these vital public investments, how would brilliant but disadvantaged individuals like Palihapitiya find their way to success? With the odds already stacked against them, how would today’s poor but bright future entrepreneurs make it happen?

“I’m acutely aware that there are many other people who grew up like me who are frankly, 1,000 times more talented then I am,” he said. “We should ask ourselves, ‘Can somebody like me grow up with the exact same problems and disadvantages and yet get to the equivalent place as me 20 years from now?'”

It’s in everyone’s best interests to get kids growing up today — many of whom with the same potential — access to economic security and a high quality education. Personally, I think that’s a human rights issue.

If you don’t, perhaps you will consider the issue of human capital: to have brilliant children with unlimited potential struggling even to survive, with limited access to any upward mobility, is a tragic waste of human capital.

As Steven Jay Gould once put it: “I am, somehow, less interested in the weight and convolutions of Einstein’s brain than in the near certainty that people of equal talent have lived and died in cotton fields and sweatshops.”

Right now the next Einstein or the next Chamath Palihapitiya may be working in, to name one example, North Carolina’s tobacco fields. I would like to believe that we, as a community, will find a way to give that person some tools and a chance.

Because, really, that’s all that person would need.