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.


Here’s a glimpse of life in Detroit, far from us in North Carolina, but where the circumstances may ring familiar for thousands also trying to figure out how to get to work without much reliable transportation around.

James Robertson, a machine operator from Detroit, works 23 miles from his home, in a metropolitan area where public transportation is spotty.

His solution has been to walk – a combined 21 miles a day – in order to get to and from work every day. He’s been doing the four to six-hour commute, which also includes taking two buses, since his car broke down a decade ago.



Detroit also leads the nation in auto insurance rates, with the average driver shelling out $5,941 a year for auto insurance, compared to the average $1,022 bill that North Carolinians pay.

Amazingly and incredibly, Robertson has never missed a day of work because of his commuting challenges.

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“Harvest of Dignity,” a 30-minute documentary that chronicles the lives of modern farm workers in North Carolina, won a regional Emmy over the weekend in the topical documentary category.

The film updates Edward R. Murrow’s 1960 report, “Harvest of Shame”, and shows that unfortunately, not much has changed about how our country treats the people who work so hard to deliver the bounty of our farms to our grocery stores and our tables.

Donna Campbell of Minnow Media in Carrboro, worked closely with the Farmworker Advocacy Network to make the film. Upon accepting the award in Nashville Saturday, Campbell said she did so on behalf of North Carolina’s farm workers.

“Those of us who haven’t spent 16 hours in a sweet potato field really have no idea what hard work is,” she said (you can watch the awards speech around 01:14 of the Emmy broadcast.

At least 150,000 farm workers and their families are in North Carolina for each growing season, according to the North Carolina Farmworker Institute.  often making less than $11,000 a year. Wage and safety violations are unfortunately all too common, with workers still facing difficulties like pesticide exposure, unacceptable living conditions and rampant wage theft.

The thought-provoking movie is worth watching with a book club or group of friends or neighbors, sure to raise awareness and generate discussion. Watch the movie and download discussion materials here:


Liz Schuler, Secretary Treasurer of the AFL-CIO

Some seats still remain for next Monday’s NC Policy Watch Crucial Conversation with Liz Shuler, Secretary-Treasuer of the AFL-CIO. Shuler will discuss the ongoing legislative assault on workers and the right to unionize (both in North Carolina and nationally) and what it has meant for American working people.

Don’t miss this important opportunity to hear from this powerful and important voice for working families.

When: Monday, March 4, at 12:30 p.m. — (Note later than usual start – box lunches will be available at 12:15 p.m).

Where: Center for Community Leadership Training Room at the Junior League of Raleigh Building, 711 Hillsborough St. at the corner of Hillsborough and St. Mary’s streets.

Cost: $10 – includes box lunch. Box lunches will be available at 12:15 p.m.

Space is limited – pre-registration required.

Click here to register

Questions?? Contact Rob Schofield at 919-861-2065 or


In Kansas, tax reform isn’t exactly playing out the way some lawmakers had hoped.  The state that Grover Norquist once called “the starter gun for tax competition” has passed a series of income tax cuts over the past year with the stated goal of eventually eliminating income taxes altogether in the near future.  This “race to zero” is well underway in several states with conservative governors and legislatures.  Here’s a quick look at how that’s working out so far for Kansas:

A $2.5B budget shortfall

The Kansas Legislative Research Department is projecting a $2.5 billion revenue hole through 2018 because the legislature has yet to figure out an effective way to replace lost revenues as a result of the income tax cuts.

A threatened credit rating

Last month, a state court ruled that the Kansas legislature was breaking the law by underfunding public schools as a result of the income tax cuts, which prompted Moody’s Investors Service to warn of a negative credit risk for the state.

Less funding for public services

Concerns over the state’s credit rating aren’t the only thing that should give Kansans pause.  By starving public schools and other services critical to economic success, the state is jeopardizing future growth. Read More