Poverty and Policy Matters

Authored by Alexandra Sirota, Director of the NC Budget and Tax Center

In July 1963, the North Carolina Fund began its work as a non-profit organization charged with fighting poverty statewide.  Its 50th Anniversary couldn’t provide a timelier reminder of our past successes at addressing poverty and serve as a call to focus on once again on eliminating poverty in our state.

This week in Durham there will be a series of events to commemorate the anniversary including with various screenings of the film Change Comes Knocking.  For those who can’t make the screenings, here is a short video on the background of Fund from the Institute for Emerging Issues.

The North Carolina Fund represented an important moment in our history not just because it once again demonstrated that our leaders had a vision for addressing a big social problem that could lead the nation.  The Fund, afterall, was the precursor to President Johnson’s War on Poverty.  It also provided clear evidence that to address poverty required work across race and class lines.

Today as nearly one in every other child of color lives in poverty, poverty remains a civil rights issue.  And it is also an issue that holds down our economic progress as a state.

Poverty remains elevated in North Carolina and the nation as we continue to deal with the painfully slow recovery. As I explained back in September, new Census Bureau data on poverty and income confirm that the economic recovery is continuing to bypass middle- and lower-income families. The little economic growth that is taking place is also sidestepping certain demographic groups, including children, communities of color, and women. A snapshot of these disparities, as well as how poverty varies across the state, is captured in a new infographic released today by the NC Budget and Tax CenterRead More

This school year, approximately 56 percent of all students in North Carolina public schools come from families with incomes low enough to qualify for free and reduced lunch (up from 48 percent in 2008). Many students within this new majority require extra learning supports, as they lag their peers in core learning areas such as reading, math, and English.

The budget signed by Governor McCrory cuts funding in many areas that help boost student achievement. For the 2013-14 school year, these funding cuts have meant fewer classroom teachers, teacher assistants, instructional support, and instructional supplies. This raises concerns about what the failure to invest in public education means for future student performance. Read More

Low-income children now represent a majority of students enrolled in public schools in the South, a new report by the Southern Education Foundation (SEF) finds. The 2009-10 school year marked the first time in modern history that a majority of students in public schools in the South were low-income students, defined as the number of students participating in the federal free- and reduced-lunch program. As public schools in North Carolina and other southern states are challenged with educating more low-income students – who typically need extra learning support and resources to succeed – education spending has failed to reflect this growing need and challenge. Read More

Poverty continues to impact 1 in 5 North Carolinians, according to 2012 Census Bureau Data released last week. The extent of poverty would be far greater without the safety net and work supports, however. This post is part of a blog series that will explain how the new poverty data demonstrates the important role public programs play and the need for continued support. Read the other posts in this series on SNAP, Social Security, Unemployment Insurance and the EITC.

Work First, North Carolina’s TANF program, was created to assist extremely low-income families in becoming economically self-sufficient through basic services, a small cash grant, and short-term training.  But despite soaring unemployment rates and persistently high poverty levels in the state, the Work First case load has been declining in North Carolina.

In good economic times, a declining TANF caseload could indicate greater economic well-being. That is, fewer cases could indicate fewer families are in deep poverty and therefore ineligible for or not enrolled in a program like TANF-Work First. But with unemployment rates hovering just under 9 percent and one in five North Carolinians living in poverty, declining TANF-Work First caseloads point to the program’s limited role in building economic security.

Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) was created by Congress in 1996 to replace Aid to Families with Dependent children and “end welfare as we know it.” Those eligible for Work First are still very much in need of assistance. Families must earn less than 19.6 percent to 37.8 percent of the federal poverty level, depending on family size, in order to be eligible. Read More