Poverty and Policy Matters

NC Budget and Tax Center, Poverty and Policy Matters

Gene Nichol—Boyd Tinsley Distinguished Professor and Director of the Center on Poverty, Work and Opportunity at the UNC School of Law—wrote a year-long series in the News and Observer last year that highlighted poverty’s persistent and varying grip on North Carolinians. The timing could not have been more perfect. A group of state lawmakers were intent on dismantling the state’s public structures even though the economy was failing to deliver for far too many of our family members, friends, neighbors, and fellow North Carolinians.

Mr. Nichol cites some startling figures that I’ve shared in this space before, such as the troubling trend of poverty among children of color that is edging closer and closer to half of the population. But Nichol did what I couldn’t do: he tapped into the hearts and minds of his readers by eloquently moving beyond the bloodless statistics. He brought to light the disturbing and stark reality of how the iconic images of the faces of poverty 50 years ago when the War on Poverty was launched are not all that different from the working poor of today.

To the disbelief of many, he documented the experiences of those living in extreme poverty out in the eastern part of our state—experiences that are so meager that some live in shacks with no in-door plumbing. Read More

NC Budget and Tax Center, Poverty and Policy Matters

As we noted in this space on Monday, the North Carolina Fund served as a template for President Johnson’s ambitious—and effective—national “War on Poverty” that was launched 50 years ago.  While such efforts began long ago, the policy prescriptions administered by these efforts remain relevant today. Case in point: the North Carolina Fund established a manpower development program aimed at helping to improve the employability of workers in rural parts of eastern North Carolina. Formed as the state’s economy was undergoing structural changes, this program provided jobless workers with on-the-job training, direct job placement, employment counseling, and much more.

With only one job available for nearly every two jobless workers in the state today, policymakers should give serious consideration to a modern version of this program that will fit today’s needs as Tar Heels continue to struggle with elevated rates of unemployment and long-term unemployment. Highlighting the North Carolina Fund’s Manpower Program, below is a second excerpt from “Everybody’s Problem”: Whites, Blacks, and the Fight Against Poverty in Eastern North Carolina, 1963-1969,” written by Karen M. Hawkins and currently under review with the University of Florida Press. Read More

NC Budget and Tax Center, Poverty and Policy Matters

Last week marked the 50th anniversary of President Johnson’s State of the Union Address where he declared an “unconditional war on poverty in America.” As we all work to highlight the progress that has been made against poverty over the last half-century, it is important to acknowledge how the North Carolina Fund served as a template for President Johnson’s ambitious—and effective—national “War on Poverty” as well as the initiative’s own successes.

In that effort, below is an excerpt from “Everybody’s Problem”: Whites, Blacks, and the Fight Against Poverty in Eastern North Carolina, 1963-1969,” written by Karen M. Hawkins and currently under review with the University of Florida Press. On Wednesday, we’ll post a second excerpt from Ms. Hawkins’ book that will highlight the successful Manpower Program that was administered by the North Carolina Fund. This program targeted jobless workers in rural areas, and provided them with on-the-job training, direct job placement, employment counseling, and vocational guidance. Read More

NC Budget and Tax Center, Poverty and Policy Matters

Fifty years ago this week, President Johnson launched a crusade against poverty. As we reflect on those efforts, we must recognize the War on Poverty’s successes as well as the work that remains. The good news is that safety net initiatives inspired by the War on Poverty reduce the number of families living in poverty by almost half, while simultaneously reducing the depth of the hardship faced by poor families. The bad news, however, is that despite this progress, economic hardship still remains high across too many communities in North Carolina.

North Carolina is enduring a painfully slow economy and workers are facing too few jobs and wage stagnation. The ongoing hardship is evidenced in new data released last month by the Census Bureau’s Small Area Income and Poverty Estimates (SAIPE) program. This new data allows us to analyze poverty and income trends in all 100 counties over the same one-year period—a level of specificity not possible in the data released by the Census Bureau last fall. Read More

NC Budget and Tax Center, Poverty and Policy Matters

 “This administration today, here and now, declares unconditional war on poverty in America. … It will not be a short or easy struggle, no single weapon or strategy will suffice, but we shall not rest until that war is won. The richest nation on earth can afford to win it. We cannot afford to lose it.”

President Lyndon B. Johnson, January 8, 1964

Today marks the 50th anniversary of President Lyndon B. Johnson’s declaration to an unconditional War on Poverty, an effort that was announced during his 1964 State of the Union address. Far too many North Carolinians and Americans still live on the “outskirts of hope” and face the stark realities of poverty. With that said, poverty has fallen significantly over the last half-century (when using a comprehensive measure), illustrating the key role that public policies play in combating poverty and boosting economic security.

Johnson’s War on Poverty laid the foundation for the modern-day safety net, including Medicare, Medicaid, Head Start, SNAP (formerly  known as food stamps), and a boost to Social Security benefits. Policymakers also provided funding towards elementary and secondary education, established the college work-study program, and provided loans for low- and moderate-income students.

The modern-day safety net cuts poverty nearly in half (see chart below) and reduces the depth of poverty among many families living moderately above the poverty line. Read More