Poverty in North Carolina is still higher than it was prior to the recession, according to a new report, with the state facing higher rates of poverty, deep poverty, and child poverty than most of the U.S., as well as stark divides across racial, gender, age, and geographical demographics.
North Carolina’s poverty rate was 16.4 percent in 2015, a drop from the 17.2 percent rate the previous year but still 15 percent higher than when the Great Recession hit in 2007, according to a new report from the Budget & Tax Center, a project of the NC Justice Center. Across the state, 1.6 million North Carolinians live in poverty – meaning a family of four living on $24,250 or less per year – and find affording the basics such as rent, food, and utilities to be a daily challenge.
“North Carolina’s economy isn’t working for everyone, and for some it’s downright broken,” said Tazra Mitchell, BTC policy analyst and co-author of the report. “Many families wake up to financial insecurity every morning as the shortage of jobs paying family-supporting wages persists, household income re-mains below pre-recession levels, and the gap between the wealthy and everyone else widens.”
The state’s poverty rate, child poverty rate, and deep poverty rate were each the 12th highest in the nation in 2015. Nearly 698,000 North Carolinians lived in deep poverty in 2015, meaning they earned half or less of the annual poverty-level income for their family size. Race, gender, and age also play significant roles in poverty, the report finds:
- Poverty has the fiercest grip on children—especially children of color—compared to any other age group. North Carolina’s child poverty rate was 23.5 percent in 2015, well above the national rate of 20.7 percent.
- Since 2007, the poverty rate for Hispanics or Latinos has increased by 5 percentage points compared to less than 2 percentage points for all other major racial groups.
- The 2015 poverty rate for women in the state was 17.8 percent versus 14.9 percent for men.
- In 2015, Latina, American Indian, and African-American women were more than twice as likely to live in poverty as Asian and white women
- Older women are far more likely to struggle to make ends meet than men: 11.0 percent of women over 65 lived in poverty compared to 6.9 percent of men in 2015.
More than 4 in 10 children who grow up in poverty are likely to remain there as adults—and there is even less economic mobility for African-American children, the report said.
North Carolina’s poverty rate also reveals a stark rural-urban divide across the state. The 20 highest county-level poverty rates in 2014 were all in rural counties. Yet urban and suburban areas are also contending with the growing concentration of poverty. In fact, the report said, the state’s metropolitan areas experienced some of the biggest jumps in the country in the number of people who are poor and living in high-poverty areas.
North Carolina’s off-kilter economy and policymakers’ decisions are responsible for the state’s enduring high poverty, the report said. Unfortunately, North Carolina’s leaders are enacting policies that make it more difficult for working families to get ahead, as well as cutting back on work and income supports that reduce the number of North Carolinians living in poverty and boost economic mobility.
“We need policies that create equal opportunity, rebuild entryways to expand the ranks of the middle class, and ensure that prosperity is broadly shared so that all North Carolinians can reach their potential,” said Alexandra Forter Sirota, BTC director and co-author of the report. “Until local, state, and federal lawmakers fix the state’s and the nation’s broken economic model, too many people across the state will wake up to poverty, struggle to put food on the table, and be unable to afford the basics like rent and child care.”
Click here  to read the full report.