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For the first time in at least a half century, a majority of American public school students live in poverty, according to a new report released by the Southern Education Foundation.

Fifty-one percent of the nation’s public school students were eligible for free and reduced lunch programs in 2013, according to federal data. In North Carolina, that figure stood at 53 percent—and in the south overall, the numbers of poor students were the highest.

Lyndsey Layton at the Washington Post explained the significance of the new development:

The shift to a majority poor student population means that in public schools, more than half of the children start kindergarten already trailing their more privileged peers and rarely, if ever, catch up. They are less likely to have support at home to succeed, are less frequently exposed to enriching activities outside of school and are more likely to drop out and never attend college.

It also means that education policy, funding decisions and classroom instruction must adapt to the swelling ranks of needy children arriving at the schoolhouse door each morning.

Back in 2006, a report by SEF highlighted how low income children became a majority of the public school students in the Southern states. The authors made this observation:

Currently the South alone faces the implications and consequences of having a new majority of low income students in its public schools… the South also faces a new global economy that requires higher skills and knowledge from all who seek a decent living. In this brave, new world, the people and policymakers of Southern states must realize that continuing the current, uneven level of educational progress will be disastrous.

They must understand more fully that today their future and their grandchildren’s future are inextricably bound to the success or failure of low income students in the South. If this new majority of students fail in school, an entire state and an entire region will fail simply because there will be inadequate human capital in Southern states to build and sustain good jobs, an enjoyable quality of life, and a well-informed democracy. It is that simple.

With today’s news, the president of the Southern Education Foundation had this to offer:

“This is a watershed moment when you look at that map,” said Kent McGuire, president of the Southern Education Foundation, the nation’s oldest education philanthropy, referring to a large swath of the country filled with high-poverty schools.

“The fact is, we’ve had growing inequality in the country for many years,”he said. “It didn’t happen overnight, but it’s steadily been happening. Government used to be a source of leadership and innovation around issues of economic prosperity and upward mobility. Now we’re a country disinclined to invest in our young people.”

News

The UNC Board of Governors is delaying the release of a much-anticipated report about a review of the university system’s centers and institutes.

UNCsystemThe report, which could recommend cuts or consolidations of various academic centers, was supposed to be presented to the full UNC Board of Governors at next week’s meeting. It will now be presented at the Feb. 27 meeting.

Questions have been raised about the goals and purposes of the review, which is being conducted by a working group of the 32-member UNC Board of Governors, all of whom received their appointments from state Republican leaders.

In December, working group members questioned why conservative viewpoints weren’t explored more fully at several UNC-Chapel Hill centers, including the UNC law school’s Center for Civil Rights and the Center for Poverty, Work and Opportunity. (Click here for more background.) The UNC poverty center is headed by Gene Nichol, an outspoken law professor who has been critical of policies coming from the McCrory administration and Republican-led state legislature.

Jim Holmes, the Board of Governor member leading the effort, has said repeatedly that the group had no partisan or political aims when it began examining the more than 200 centers located on 16 different campuses. The review has now been reduced to 34 groups, several of which serve or study minority or disenfranchised populations. (Click here and scroll down for a list.)

A draft of the report wasn’t finished over the winter holidays, and a public meeting will be held sometime before the Feb. 27th meeting for the working group to finalize the report, said Joni Worthington, a spokeswoman for the UNC system.

The date for that meeting has not been announced.

Commentary

poverty916-1Today’s nominee for most maddening, hypocritical and self-serving tradition in the world of politics is the spectacle of politicians who dedicate the their professional lives to de-funding public services — especially those that serve people  in need — solemnly preaching to us on holidays and/or when the weather is bad about the importance of helping the poor.

Here’s North Carolina’s ultra-right, anti-public safety net Lieutenant Governor this morning on Facebook:

“With these incredibly low temperatures sweeping across our state, let us not forget all of those less fortunate than us. Last month First Lady McCrory and Alice Forest teamed up with the Durham Rescue Mission for a canned food drive. We have been informed that over 2,500 cans of food were collected, and nearly $2,000 donated!

With the cold weather we are experiencing this week, the Durham Rescue Mission is expecting an influx of people. Thank you to to everyone who donates their time and resources to causes like this across our state. Your generosity will ensure that nutritious meals will be available for all who come.”

Isn’t that special? The same fellow who crusades on an almost daily basis against Medicaid expansion, unemployment insurance and any number of other essential safety net programs that would actually make a difference for low income people is all about tossing a few cans of food (and maybe a night in a shelter) to the poor when the weather is bad.

Chris Fitzsimon rightfully described this noxious phenomenon this past Thanksgiving as “cynically suspending the blame.”

“But there’s a disconnect somehow in the holiday message and the rhetoric we hear from many political leaders and right-wing pundits the rest of the time.

Read More

NC Budget and Tax Center

While swinging from one crisis to the next for the last several years, we have often lost sight of some long-term trends that we can’t ignore forever. For the last several decades, the United States has been growing apart, not together. The middle class has been contracting, rising out of poverty remains difficult, and parents doubt whether they can provide a better life for their children than they had. The American Dream, an organizing article of faith that helped to build the most diverse and wealthy nation in human history, is in trouble.

2014 End of Year Charts_wage growth

Over the last 35 years, median wages have hardly moved while people at the top of the income distribution have enjoyed significant income growth. As can be seen in the chart above, after adjusting for inflation the top 20% of wage earners have seen their income grow by more than $5 per hour since 1980, while folks at the median have seen less than half of that growth. This means that less and less of the prosperity generated by the North Carolina economy is going to the middle class. It has been a slow process, and one with many causes, but the trend is clear, increasingly present, and dangerous. If the middle class slowly disappears, the American Dream will go with it.

The long-term trends do not just spell trouble for the middle class. As can be seen below, the last decade has seen an explosion in the number of North Carolina counties that are home to high levels of inequality and poverty. The share of counties with this troubling paring of high-inequality and high-poverty has doubled since 2000, going from roughly 30% to over 60%. This means that in more than half of the counties in our state, income growth is doing little to lift people out of poverty. Again, the sort of trend that saps energy out of the American Dream.

2014 End of Year Charts_inequality and poverty

The potency of the American Dream relies on hard work being rewarded, talent being recognized, and people sharing in the wealth they create. If poor and working North Carolinians’ piece of the pie created keeps getting smaller, we will lose the source of our greatest competitive advantage in the modern economy, the American dream.

Looking back a year end and ahead into the future, the Budget and Tax Center compiled a 2014 Chartbook, which looks at a range of critical economic issues facing North Carolina. The bottom line is that we still have a long way to go and the growth that we are seeing is not exceptional but rather in line with the improving national picture.  The recovery has been built on low-wage jobs resulting in the persistence of elevated poverty levels despite improvements overall. State policy choices, namely the decision to cut taxes for the wealthy few and profitable corporations, have made it impossible to strengthen the infrastructure of opportunity in the state.  The result is that the recovery is bypassing many North Carolinians and communities and contributing to the growing divide in experience of opportunity and prosperity.

Commentary

More than three-million Americans will get a raise tomorrow thanks to common sense new laws in 20 states. Not surprisingly, North Carolinians will not be on the list. This is from a post this morning at Think Progress:

On January 1, 20 states will raise their minimum wages, while one — New York — will increase its wage on Wednesday.

That means that all told, 3.1 million American workers will ring in the New Year with a pay raise.

Eleven states and Washington, DC are increasing their minimum wages thanks to changes in the law either by legislation passed by lawmakers or referenda passed by voters. Nine others will see an automatic increase because their wages are indexed to rise with inflation. Currently, 15 states have automatic increases built into their minimum wages, unlike the federal law.

The January 1 raises range from a 12-cent boost in Florida, whose minimum wage will increase to $8.05, to a $1.25 increase in South Dakota, bringing its wage to $8.50.

The increases in the New Year will mean that in 2015, the majority of states — 29 and Washington, DC — will have minimum wages set above the federal level of $7.25 an hour. They will also mean that 60 percent of all American workers will live in a state with a higher minimum wage.

Another half million workers will get a raise later in 2015, when legislation passed in Delaware and Minnesota to raise their wages goes into effect.

Meanwhile, of course, the minimum wage here in Pope-land remains stuck at a miserly $7.25 with essentially zero prospects of rising anytime soon and the inhabitants of the right-wing think tanks calling for its abolition.

Happy New Year!

minwage-2015