NC Budget and Tax Center

Party like its 1929. Income inequality rivals era before the Great Depression

Before you dig out your flapper dresses and suspenders, odds are this is a party you can’t afford to attend. A new report from the Economic Policy Institute shows that the level of income inequality in the United States and North Carolina has increased over the past several years to a point where we are now at or above the economic divide that helped to propel the world in the worst economic collapse in modern history.

“There has been vast and widespread growth in income inequality in every corner of the country. Overall, the growth in incomes of the bottom 99 percent has improved since our last report, in step with a strengthening economy, but the gap between the top 1 percent and everyone else still grew in the majority of states we examine here.”

In North Carolina, the average income for someone in the top one percent is 20.6 times larger than everyone else, a figure that has increased substantially during the Great Recession and is much higher than it was in the 1960s through early 1980s. The top one percent took home over 17 percent of all income in North Carolina in 2015, and the top 0.1 percent commanded 7.4 of all income. In 1974, when the level of income inequality in North Carolina was the lowest in modern history, the top one percent only consumed 7.8 percent of all North Carolina income.

We’re not doomed to repeat the Great Depression, but it is clear that state and federal policy in the last several years has failed to address the single most pressing economic challenge of our time. Instead of hoping that more tax cuts for wealthy people and profitable corporations will magically fix our problems, it’s time for leaders in Raleigh and Washington, D.C., to admit that we are reaching levels of inequality that threaten the social and economic fabric of our country. Read more

NC Budget and Tax Center

North Carolina has failed to make progress on mental health issues for 10 years

[Note: As was explained earlier this month in a post entitled “North Carolina needs help to meet strategic health objectives by 2020,” North Carolina is at real risk of failing to meet a series of objectives identified in 2010 as part of the “Healthy NC 2020” initiative. This post is part of a summer series that is providing in-depth coverage of some of the focus areas in which we are falling short.]

In 2010, the state of North Carolina identified 13 major health focus areas and established 41 decennial health objectives and targets to meet by the year 2020. As part of the state’s ‘Healthy NC 2020’ improvement plan, the state identified a mental health focus area and developed three measurable objectives for it, recognizing that this area is an essential part of individual health throughout one’s lifespan.

Unfortunately, analysis of new data shows that North Carolina has not made any progress on its three mental health objectives since 2008. Today, the state’s suicide rate is higher, the number of poor mental health days among adults has gone up, and the rate of mental health-related visits to the emergency room has increased.

In other words, the state of mental health in North Carolina has only gotten worse since 2008.

Moreover, despite our state’s opioid crisis and increased prevalence of mental health conditions, analysis also shows that state funding has fallen by 18 percent since 2013 for the state’s Division of Mental Health, Developmental Disabilities, and Substance Abuse.

Worsening mental health conditions is a problem that affects all North Carolinians as it significantly affects people in many ways, including their sense of wellbeing, interpersonal relationships, and productivity in the workplace and in school. Furthermore, mental health conditions are also associated with increased health care costs and service utilization. Given the fact that our state has failed to make progress on mental health issues for 10 years, policymakers and health stakeholders must do more now to break down the barriers that people face in accessing mental health care and needed services.

A good place to start is by effectively addressing the mental health gaps that we have known about for almost a decade, as our ‘Healthy NC 2020’ plan states:

“Identified gaps in necessary services in the state include a lack of public awareness regarding service availability, a need for increased services in rural areas, lack of culturally competent services, and a dearth of mental health service providers.”

 Luis A. Toledo is a Public Policy Analyst for the Budget & Tax Center, a project of the North Carolina Justice Center.

NC Budget and Tax Center

North Carolina needs help to meet strategic health objectives by 2020

The State of North Carolina is not doing enough to promote the health of its people.

In 2010, the State of North Carolina identified 13 major health focus areas and established 41 decennial health objectives and targets to meet by the year 2020, with the goal of making North Carolina a healthier state. Unfortunately, our state is nowhere close to reaching this goal anytime soon.

My analysis last year of our state’s progress in achieving the goals outlined in our health improvement plan, Healthy NC 2020: A Better State of Health, found that “at the current pace it would take the state 48 more years (or until the year 2065) to achieve all of its 2020 targets.

With eighteen months to go until 2020, analysis of new state data shows that not only will our state not come close to achieving these health objectives but also that our state is worse off today in 17 key health objectives compared to nine years ago.

In other words, instead of making progress towards becoming “one of the healthiest states in the nation,” various health conditions in North Carolina have gotten worse.

For example, 12 out of 13 (92 percent) of the state’s major focus areas are negatively affected, including: maternal and infant health, mental health, substance abuse, chronic disease, injury & violence, and physical activity and nutrition. Within these focus areas, some of the major health objectives in which our current status is worse off today compared to nine years ago includes:

  • the rate of mental health-related visits to emergency rooms;
  • the unintentional poisoning mortality rate;
  • the percentage of individuals aged 12 years and older reporting illicit drug use;
  • the suicide rate;
  • the percentage of people spending more than 30 percent of their income on rental housing;
  • the percentage of adults with diabetes;
  • the infant mortality racial disparity between whites and people of color

Moreover, North Carolina has consistently trailed other states in overall health rankings for almost two decades, and currently ranks 33rd in the country.

Based on the evidence it is clear that in order to improve our state of health and make progress on our 2020 goals a real concerted effort is needed from health professionals, insurers, business and community leaders, advocacy organizations, consumer groups, the faith community and North Carolina’s residents.

Over the summer I will be releasing a series of posts covering more in-depth some of the state’s ‘Healthy NC 2020’ focus areas, the goal of which will be to lift up where we are falling short and how we can make progress for the state and for each North Carolinian whose health and well-being depends on the policies and systems that support them.

Luis A. Toledo is a Public Policy Analyst for the Budget & Tax Center, a project of the North Carolina Justice Center.

 

immigration, NC Budget and Tax Center, Trump Administration

Too little, too late: Trump can’t fix damage already done to 2,000 children separated from families

President Trump may want people to believe he ended his devastating policy of separating children from their families at the US border, but his reversal (and subsequent back and forth confusion) doesn’t turn back the clock for those who have already been separated, and does not end the mistreatment of families seeking refuge through asylum in the United States. Trump’s order also fails to lay out a humane policy for how families and children will be treated going forward, an omission that will likely lead to even more trauma for immigrant families and ongoing legal wrangling. Most recently, 17 states including North Carolina filed a suit against the Trump administration, and, in a separate lawsuit, a U.S. district judge ordered that border authorities reunite children with their families.

Trump’s executive order is no act of heroism, but rather an insufficient response to a crisis created by his own administration’s cruel policies.

More than 2,000 children have been separated from their families at the border since the “zero tolerance” policy took effect in early May as part of the administration’s latest attack against immigrant families. Family separations drew widespread condemnation from professional groups, including the American Academy of Pediatrics, the National Academy of Sciences, the American Psychological Association, the National Association of Social Workers, and thousands of individual mental health professionals.

Health professionals point to a range of short- and long-term harms that family separation imposes on children. In the short term, serious cases of traumatic separation, reactive attachment disorder, and sustained toxic stress lead to a range of coping strategies, including aggression, withdrawal, self-harm, anxiety, depression, and sleep problems. These adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) can undermine long term health, increasing the risk of heart disease, diabetes, and substance use disorders, and inhibiting the formation of healthy relationships.

In addition to the events at the U.S.-Mexico border, families currently residing in the United States are being separated in ICE raids, most recently in Ohio, North Carolina, and Tennessee. These, too, result in families being torn apart, have a similar negative impact on children, and are issues of concern to medical professionals, teachers, social workers and more. These traumatic experiences will continue for children whose families face the daily fear of deportation, and for the thousands of children who have already been separated from their families.

Read more

NC Budget and Tax Center

US Senate Farm Bill threatened with harmful amendments

Last week, the US House narrowly passed their harmful version of the Farm Bill. The bill originally failed to pass the House because of its many harmful provisions that would have taken SNAP (the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, formally known as Food Stamps) away from North Carolinians struggling with food insecurity.  On this second attempt, the bill passed by only a few votes with Democrats and moderate Republicans voting against it.

This week, the US Senate is preparing to take a vote on their version. While the US House proposal will hurt our state, the US Senate version will do the opposite. Not only does the Senate bill fully fund SNAP, it invests in Employment and Training programs that help SNAP recipients find meaningful work.

Although much better, the Senate version is not free and clear of potentially harmful provisions.

Several potential amendments are already beginning to emerge from the Senate. One potential amendment would prevent states from waiving work requirements for hungry adults in counties where their are no jobs available. In 2016, the NC General Assemble passed legislation banning the state from applying for this very waiver, taking food assistance away from as many at 100,000 North Carolinian.

Another potential amendment would require SNAP participants to provide identification when purchasing food. This change would place heavy burdens on retailers and SNAP participants as well as adding inefficiency to an otherwise extremely efficient program. With this provision, teenagers would not be able to shop for their families, relatives and neighbors would not be able to shop for home-bound elderly and disabled family members, and those who don’t have a government issue ID would be barred from using their own benefits.

Last year, North Carolina was the 10th hungriest state in the nation, with more than 600,000 households struggling to place food on the table each night. SNAP is a critical tool in helping to address that need. In the same year, more than 1.3 million North Carolinians participated in SNAP.

Take a look below to see how else the House and Senate versions differ: