Commentary

New “must read” series puts poverty back in focus

It appears that journalists at the Fayetteville Observer have produced a new “must read” series on the disastrous consequences of poverty in North Carolina’s sixth largest city. “Poverty’s Price” debuted yesterday and will run through the week. Click here and here, respectively, to read the first two installments: “Poverty: What Fayetteville can learn from Baltimore” and “The poor stay poor.”

As they always do, the right-wing think tankers will dismiss such reports by ascribing lack of drive and initiative to the poor, but as the lead editorial in Sunday’s edition of the Observer explained, endemic poverty of this kind is something that all members of the community bear responsibility for:

“This is not a good place to be poor. In fact, Cumberland County is one of the worst places in the country for children born into poverty.

They won’t just stay poor here, but they’ll actually fare worse than their parents. And this cycle will repeat itself, generation after generation.

We were stunned, earlier this year, when we came across the national study that documented this dismal fate for Fayetteville’s impoverished children. Harvard economists studied the lifetime economic outcomes for children across the nation. They found that in some areas, poor children have a pretty good chance of doing better than their parents. In others, they’re likely to stay at the same income level.

But here, they can expect earnings that are 18 percent below their parents’. According to the study, children in only 13 of the nation’s 2,478 counties fare worse….

As today’s story points out, this extensive poverty has consequences, our crime rate foremost among them. The problem is well-known in cities across the country, so common that it has a self-descriptive name: the cradle-to-prison pipeline.

The syndrome that spins out of our poverty problem is making the rest of us poor, too. Fighting the crime and imprisoning the perpetrators is costing this community millions of taxpayer dollars every year. Breaking the cycle would have an enormous payoff. But that will require investment, and this state is moving in the opposite direction – cutting, for example, early-education funding instead of increasing it to meet community needs.

We hope our readers will follow ‘Poverty’s Price’ throughout the coming week and then begin a community conversation about what we need to do to improve our children’s chances in life. We’ve all got a lot riding on it.”

Let’s hope readers across the state pay attention. For while the problems of Fayetteville are certainly dire, the same could be said for scores of communities across North Carolina.

Commentary

Day Three of “Altered State: How 5 years of conservative rule have redefined North Carolina”

altered-state-bannerIn case you missed it, be sure to check out today’s third installment in our new special report: “Altered State: How 5 years of conservative rule have redefined North Carolina.” Today’s story, “Yanking away the ladder: Legislature blocks and cuts programs that help people climb out of poverty,” is written by reporter Sarah Ovaska-Few and it tells the real life stories of average North Carolinians who have suffered mightily as the result of the anti-government policies implemented by the state’s conservative political leadership. Here’s the opening:

“David Turner’s spine and back issues cause him nearly constant pain and distress, keeping him inside his house most days and unable to meet with clients for his web design business or care for his two children.

A medical test would clear Turner for steroid shots to lessen the pain, but the $5,000 price tag is too steep for the Gaston County family with an annual income of less than $20,000 and no health insurance.

The Turners are stuck in what’s known as the Medicaid expansion gap, a hole created when North Carolina’s legislature rejected federal money that would have expanded the program to cover a half-million of the state’s lowest-income adults.

The Turners essentially make too little to qualify for federal subsidies that would make health insurance on the open market affordable and aren’t sick enough to get health care through the existing Medicaid program, which primarily serves low-income children, elderly and disabled persons. (Their children are enrolled in Medicaid.)

‘We’re hanging on by a thread,’ said Karen Turner, who has diabetes but delayed treatment so the family can afford her husband’s pain medications.

If David Turner had access to medical care, there’s a good likelihood that he would be able to work more, earn more, pay more taxes and better support his family. North Carolina is one of 20 states that has not expanded its Medicaid program to cover poor adults, even though the federal government would cover most of the costs. North Carolina accounts for 10 percent of all the nation’s adults that fall into the Medicaid gap, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation.

A central element in the five-year reign of conservatives has been a fundamental change in how state government views and treats its poorest and most vulnerable citizens. The 2013 decision to reject Medicaid expansion is part of a broad effort to cut, limit or eliminate programs that provide ladders to help poor families climb out of poverty and find better futures.”

Click here to read the entire story.

Commentary

The best op-ed of the weekend

Workers carrying banana peppers at Kenda Farms 2003 (PBP)Not surprisingly, it was Gene Nichol’s regular contribution to Raleigh’s News & Observer in which he shines a light on the General Assembly’s cold and shoddy decision to punish poor people by slashing the state’s already inadequate Legal Aid budget.

As is so often the case with conservative attacks on Legal Aid, this year’s budget cut was pretty clearly driven by agribusiness, which can’t abide the idea of farmworkers occasionally winning cases against growers who treat them like, well, dirt. Here’s Nichol:

“Sen. Brent Jackson of Autryville, one of the powerful appropriation chairs, led the charge to end funding. Jackson is the Senate’s only mega-farmer. Having benefited mightily from agribusiness contributions, he has quickly become their standard bearer. Jackson carries no affection for LANC. A couple of its lawyers have had the gall to win cases on behalf of poor farmworkers in Eastern North Carolina. So Jackson saw the rare opportunity, in a single stroke, to both line the pockets of rich Tar Heels and restrict the effective rights of those working in the fields. A win-win if ever there were one.

As a result, Hausen has been forced in recent weeks to lay off 48 lawyers and paralegals – from a staff of about 350. If cuts passed by the U.S. House become law later this year, he’ll have to eliminate 50 more. Legal aid lawyers carry famously high caseloads and enjoy famously low salaries. One of the most efficient anti-poverty programs in North Carolina is, as we speak, being markedly decimated.

This is hardly an auspicious time to gut legal services.

Given the explosion of poverty that has occurred here since 2008, now 23 percent of Tar Heels, over 2.2 million, qualify for legal services under federal guidelines. The marker is set at 125 percent of the poverty threshold – or about $29,000 for a family of four. Half of legal aid clients make less than $15,000 a year.”

But, of course, such numbers mean little to elected officials who’ve been ignoring similar figures for years. As Nichol puts it:

“We have also said, repeatedly, that we won’t allow important rights to be lost without providing a meaningful hearing, at a meaningful time, in a meaningful manner. But, for poor North Carolinians, when we say that, we lie.”

It’s getting to be a habit for state leaders.

 

NC Budget and Tax Center, News

Congresswoman Alma Adams urges Governor McCrory to veto measure that unnecessarily restricts food aid for childless adults

Earlier this month, Congresswoman Alma Adams of the 12th District penned a letter urging Governor McCrory to veto a bill that would unnecessarily restrict food aid for childless adults who are very poor and live in areas where jobs are scarce—regardless of how hard they are looking for work.Adams_McCrory

States can temporarily suspend work-related time-limits on federal food aid for areas with sustained high levels of unemployment. North Carolina officials applied for a waiver in July for 77 of the state’s 100 counties due to a severe lack of jobs available that hampers North Carolinians’ ability to meet the work requirements. The bill, however, would permanently ban the Governor from ever pursuing this option irrespective of how local economies are faring or whether employment and training opportunities actually exist.

Between 85,000 and 105,000 unemployed childless adults in North Carolina would lose food aid in 2016 if the Governor signs this bill into law.* See this map of where they live.

“House Bill 318 is [a] significant step backwards for supporting the hungry as they look for work,” wrote Congresswoman Adams. “All this bill does is punish people in high unemployment areas and limits the state’s ability to meet the needs of the unemployed,” she continued.

Congresswoman Adams is part of a growing chorus of voices calling upon the governor to veto this measure, including the NC Justice Center, the NC NAACP, and the state Legislative Black Caucus. Governor McCrory has until October 30th to veto or sign the bill, which will become law if he takes no action.

See Representative Adams’ letter to the Governor below.

Adams_Letter

*Special data request to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. September 2015.

News

North Carolina’s infant mortality rate ticks up, with increases in black and Latino baby deaths

North Carolina’s infant mortality rate has ticked upwards, a slight setback in the state that once had the highest infant mortality rate in the nation.

The state’s 2014 rate was 7.1 deaths of babies in their first year for every 1,000 live births, according to information released Monday by the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services. In all, 860 infants died in North Carolina during 2014 before their first birthday.

That’s up from the 7 deaths for every 1,000 live births the state had from 2010 to 2013, the lowest the state’s rate has ever been.

But the data shows the state continues to have significant differences in how babies fared from different racial and ethnic groups, with death rates rising in the Latino and African-American populations while dropping for white and Native American babies. (Click here to access chart on racial breakdowns).

Graphic from Washington Post

Graphic from Washington Post

North Carolina’s infant mortality rate is higher than the U.S. average of 6 deaths per 1,000 births, while the United States has one of the highest infant mortality rates in the developed world.

A 2014 chart from the Washington Post shows just how far the United State lags behind many countries, largely European, when it comes to how  infants fare.

Here in North Carolina, black babies continued to face worse outcomes than their white, Latino and Native American peers, and the infant mortality rate increased to 12.8 deaths for every 1,000 births of African-American children after years of declines.

Latino infants, who have had some of the lowest mortality rates in the state for years, had an alarming 68 percent jump in the mortality rate, from 3.7 deaths for every 1,000 live births in 2013 to 6.2 deaths for every 1,000 births in 2014.

 

There were also geographical differences in the North Carolina data, with counties in the eastern part of the state (many of which also have the highest poverty rates in the state) exhibiting higher rates of infant deaths than found elsewhere.

From DHHS:

Infant Mortality by NC Policy Watch