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Working PoorOne of the great myths of the American policy debate is that poor people are poor because they don’t (or won’t) work. While it’s true that unemployment is still a huge problem in many places, it’s also true (and increasingly so) that work is no panacea — especially for people of color.  This is especially and tragically true in states like North Carolina.

For the latest confirmation of this harsh reality, be sure this morning to check out a this new data-rich report by the Working Poor Families Project entitled “Low-income working families: The racial/ethnic divide.” The report  documents how race and ethnicity factor into the poverty of working families and, among other things, highlights the widening gap between white and minority families since the start of the Great Recession. It also looks at differences by geography. Here are the key findings:

  • Among the 10.6 million low-income working families in America, racial/ethnic minorities constitute 58 percent, despite only making up 40 percent of all working families nationwide.
  • The economic gap between white and all minority working families is now 25 percentage points and has grown since the onset of the recession.
  • There are 24 million children in low-income working families and 14 million, well over half, are racial/ethnic minorities.
  • Over 50 percent of Latino, low-income working families have a parent without a high school equivalency degree, compared with 16 percent of whites.
  • Working families headed by minorities have higher incomes in the Mid-Atlantic region, Alaska, Hawaii and parts of the Northeast, compared with minority working families in the upper Midwest and Mississippi Delta regions

Sadly, North Carolina doesn’t fare as well as the “Mid-Atlantic” region. According to the report, more than half (55%) of working families in our state who are racial and ethnic minorities fail to bring home a true “living income” — i.e 200% or more of the official federal “poverty” threshold.  The national average is 47.5% for racial and ethnic minorities. The report also highlights North Carolina’s recent repeal of the state Earned Income Tax Credit as a contributor to this deplorable situation.

Click here to read the entire report. State-by-state data can be found on page 14.

NC Budget and Tax Center

On Wednesday, the Senate Finance committee heard presentations that made the case for more changes to the state’s tax code. While beginning with many of the economic realities in North Carolina—stagnant and falling wages, persistently high poverty, and slow growth— the presentation prescribes the wrong medicine: more cuts to the income tax in favor of applying the sales tax to more goods and services.

It’s a surprising conclusion to reach as prior “reform” efforts based on income tax cuts for the wealthy and profitable corporations have not allowed North Carolina to invest in the state’s economic recovery. It’s even worse with evidence mounting that shifting more of the tax load onto average people is causing real damage.

It’s clear that more tax cuts for the wealthy and profitable corporations aren’t the best tools to address the economic issues highlighted in the presentation. Tax cuts do nothing to address the fact that workers aren’t seeing their wages grow, despite increasing productivity. Tax cuts that primarily benefit the wealthy and profitable corporations do not help alleviate poverty. Instead, such an approach jeopardizes the ability of the state to invest in pathways to opportunity—the schools, research and development, and business start-ups that create a vibrant economy.

We have long advocated for tax reform, and a genuine and thoughtful plan to modernize our tax code is still needed today – not in spite of 2013 tax changes, but because of them. But shifting the state away from the income tax to rely more on sales taxes, as the leadership presented yesterday, will make things worse, not better. It will not help address the ups and downs in revenue collections and will mean that everyday North Carolinians carry more of the tax load while wealthy taxpayers get a tax cut. This is especially true if such tax shifts don’t seek to offset a greater reliance on sales tax with a strong state EITC.

Here is what should be the focus of legislators’ reform efforts: Read More

Commentary

EITC_ncToday marks a little known “holiday”: Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) Awareness Day. The IRS-led national event is intended – as the title implies – to spread awareness about this modest but vital tax credit and make sure that all qualified workers receive it. The day is as much about educating people as to what exactly the EITC is as it is about directing individuals to sites where they can get free tax help to claim the credit. For those that do, often for just two or three years, it can mean the difference between struggling for another year and getting back on your feet.

In North Carolina, however, the day isn’t so simple. In fact it’s hard to find cause for celebration in the only state in the country to have eliminated the credit.

There are plenty of individuals who are fully aware of what the EITC means for their own lives as well as those of their neighbors, despite its absence in the Tar Heel state. Last year, NC Justice Center staff spoke to individuals across the state that had been directly impacted by the credit and acutely felt the loss of the EITC.

They talked about how the EITC arrived at the perfect moment in their lives: when they gave birth to a child with medical needs and struggled to pay hospital bills; when they were stuck in a low-wage job that wouldn’t allow them to save enough to pay off their debts; or when they were hoping to finally become a homeowner after relying on family and friends for shelter. These were all working North Carolinians. Their stories were familiar and at times heartbreaking. Some are still struggling, and others saw their families lifted out of poverty thanks in part to the EITC. They are the individuals who once relied on the EITC and urge policymakers to reinstate the credit – not only for themselves, but so that other families can feel the benefits.

A few basic facts on the state EITC that bear repeating: Read More

Falling Behind in NC

If you work hard and play by the rules, you deserve a chance to get ahead. This is why the Earned Income Tax Credit was invented: to help families with low-paying jobs make ends meet.

Unfortunately, North Carolina is the first state in 30 years to eliminate its Earned Income Tax Credit. This move abandoned a bunch of our neighbors, people with stories like Kara’s:

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There is no more stark illustration of why tax policy matters. With NC job growth coming primarily in low-wage industries, we’re going to need the Earned Income Tax Credit — and other measures that work for working people — more than ever.

 

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Pat McCrory 4Maybe it’s the ongoing game of musical chairs in Gov. Pat McCrory’s communications staff or maybe it’s just the man himself, but whatever it is, the Governor’s public pronouncements continue to be peppered with admissions and allegations that bespeak a remarkable degree of obliviousness to the facts and the implications of his administration’s policies.

Yesterday morning’s announcement on raising teacher pay for new teachers featured a classic example. As the Governor began his remarks on his proposal and attempted to lay out the groundwork for it, he made the following rather amazing (and, one has to note, grammatically-challenged) admission:

“Today sadly, the starting teacher pay in North Carolina makes only $30,800. You know, that’s not even enough to raise a family or to pay off student loans, which this new generation of teachers are having to borrow money to go to college at this point in time. How do we expect someone to pay back that loan at that starting salary?”

While the Guv deserves an “attaboy” for making such a statement (yes, teachers make too little and government should do something about it!) he deserves nothing but a big “what the heck?!” for the stunning hypocrisy and lack of awareness it shows with respect to so many of his other policies. Read More