NC needs to invest in child care assistance if we want to get people back to work

The COVID-19 pandemic has put child care access and affordability front and center. Working parents and early childhood educators have always known how important child care is, but now the need to shore up and transform our early childhood education system is front page news. On Mother’s Day weekend, an op-ed in Raleigh’s News & Observer argued persuasively that if our state really wants to recognize and support North Carolina moms, we need to expand access to child care subsidies.

A look at the data shows just how far North Carolina has to go in order to support eligible families with young children. The average annual cost of care for an infant attending a child care center in the state is $9,650, over $600 more than the current in-state tuition at the University of North Carolina. That’s more than one-third of the state median income for a single mother.

The state’s child care subsidy program uses state and federal funds to cover most of these costs for eligible families, and is a lifeline for working parents who are lucky enough to receive it. But low levels of investment in the subsidy program mean the vast majority of eligible families don’t get access. Generally, children under six are eligible for assistance if their parents are working and their family’s annual income is under 200 percent of the federal poverty level ($53,000 for a family of four). An estimated 226,000 of North Carolina’s children under six are eligible, but the most recent data show only about 38,000 — or 17 percent — received assistance in February 2021. (Another 22,000 school-age children, who are subject to different eligibility rules, also received assistance.)

As the map below shows, the number of eligible children under 6 served varies widely by county. It ranges from just 2% of about 100 eligible children in Hyde County to 37% in Washington County.

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Gene Nichol: GOP lawmakers are trying to force NC teachers to lie

In case you missed it yesterday, be sure to check out UNC law professor Gene Nichol’s spot-on assessment of the new effort by North Carolina Republican lawmakers to whitewash the truth about our state’s racist past.

As Policy Watch education reporter Greg Childress reported earlier this week:

House Bill 324 is like dozens of bills around the country being pushed by Republican legislatures trying to ensure unflattering parts of the nation’s history are not taught in public schools.

Critical Race Theory, an academic discipline that examines how racism has shaped the nation’s legal and social systems, is also a target of such bills.

In North Carolina, HB 324 would prohibit teachers from promoting concepts that suggest America is racists or that people are inherently racist or sexist. It would also prohibit teaching that whites or anyone else is responsible for the sins of their forefathers.

In blasting the measure, Nichol rightfully takes House Speaker Tim Moore to task for characterizing Critical Race Theory as one of multiple  “hateful ideas attacking our kids.” Here’s Nichol:

Moore’s newly embraced proposal would ban, among other things, North Carolina public schools from promoting “the belief that the United States is a meritocracy is racist or sexist or was created by members of a particular race or sex to oppress members of another race of sex.”

In other words, we are to teach that even though in North Carolina twice as many blacks as whites live in poverty, three times as many young kids, at least twice as many African-Americans are unemployed, food insecure, suspended from school, subjected to traffic stops, arrested and imprisoned, and on average, black families possess less than ten percent of the wealth of white families, and, of course, black men are repeatedly murdered by unthreatened policemen before our eyes – all this results from being a meritocracy, not from our brutal history, biases, or systemic inequalities. By statutory command, our schools will be required to lie.

Of course, as Nichol, also notes, there’s nothing particularly new or surprising about such an effort from the state’s current legislative leadership. As his essay points out:

These are the notable folks who have routinely constrained black Tar Heels right to vote; racially gerrymandered our electoral districts so profoundly it severed the foundational norm of consent of the governed; repealed the Racial Justice Act; lionized confederate memorials; made it easier to segregate schools and harder to release police-cam videos; and are now poised to try to criminalize Black Lives Matter demonstrations. They have governed, for a decade, as a White People’s Party.

Yes, it is 2021, but at the General Assembly these days, it continues to feel more like 1921. Click here to read the entire essay.

A message of hope and teamwork from high-profile commencement speakers for the Class of 2021

It is graduation weekend for both UNC-Chapel Hill and NC State University. A year ago, it was improbable to think of new graduates gathering together to celebrate their accomplishments in the early days of the pandemic.

But this spring, the promise of vaccines and the hard work of scientists and medical professionals make such happy gatherings possible as the state continues to watch vaccination rates rise.

At Chapel Hill, this weekend’s Commencement address will be virtually delivered by UNC alum Kizzmekia Corbett. Seven years ago, Corbett earned her Ph.D. in microbiology and immunology from the UNC School of Medicine.

Her interest in rapid vaccine development led to a fellowship at the NIH’s Vaccine Research Center, where she studied coronaviruses.

Of course, she is best known these days for the work her team did in developing a COVID-19 vaccine in partnership with Moderna.

“I am a virologist because I studied virology at UNC, at one of the world’s most renowned viral immunology enterprises,” she said. “That level of training is what prepared me for this moment.”

Corbett will be joined in her virtual address by Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.

Click below to hear Corbett reflect on her time at Carolina in this video produced by UNC-Chapel Hill.

UNC-Chapel Hill will hold multiple in-person, ticketed ceremonies Friday through Sunday in Kenan Stadium. Graduates will be grouped by their school or department in the College of Arts & Sciences so that classmates can celebrate together.

In Raleigh, Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson, one of the top passers in NC State history, returns to Carter-Finley Stadium to serve as commencement speaker during NC State’s spring ceremonies, scheduled for 7 p.m. this evening and 9 a.m. on Saturday.

During Friday’s ceremony, Chancellor Randy Woodson will confer an honorary degree on alumnus Jeff Williams, chief operating officer at Apple.

CDC: You can ditch the mask in most places, indoors and out, if fully vaccinated

National and state unemployment insurance data show initial claims return to pre-COVID-19 levels

The release of national weekly unemployment insurance claims data shows that initial claims for unemployment insurance (UI) are 92 percent lower than this time last year in North Carolina.

The continued decline week-over-week similarly points to the continued improvements in the labor market and the important role UI plays in ensuring jobless workers stay engaged in the labor market and looking for work.

“North Carolina’s unemployment system is the first line of defense against people leaving the labor force out of frustration that too few jobs are available,” said Alexandra Sirota, Director of the Budget& Tax Center, a project of the NC Justice Center. “For more than 467,000 North Carolinians our state system fell short, failing to sustain them until their job searches resulted in employment.”

New research from the Economic Policy Institute points to the critical role that federal extensions of UI eligibility and the number of weeks have had in North Carolina, as well as the heavy reliance in our state on those programs to stabilize the economy. Federal UI provided more than 80 percent of the unemployment benefits in North Carolina, which went a long way to stabilizing household budgets, local commerce, and state revenue.

In North Carolina, the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program, which reaches those who would otherwise not be eligible for state UI, such as the self-employed or those on contracts, provided wage replacement during the week ending April 24th to more than 83,000 North Carolinians.

UI must be the foundation of the state’s work to ensure people get back to good, family-sustaining jobs. Right now, national data show that despite improvements in the number of job openings economy-wide there are still 12 workers officially counted as unemployed for just 10 job openings. Moreover, well-documented barriers—including here in North Carolina—point to the real barrier of childcare faced by a significant share of the labor force, which makes it difficult for every worker to return to their jobs.

“Unemployment Insurance is one of the most effective tools we have to support the economy to recovery,” said Bill Rowe, Deputy Director of Advocacy at the NC Justice Center. “The key is to provide adequate wage replacement for those who have lost employment until the labor market has the quantity and quality of jobs that ensure workers can go back to work.”

Julia Hawes is the Director of Communications for the N.C. Justice Center.