MEDIA RELEASE: Final "Poverty Day" numbers show deepening crisis for North Carolina's poor

Final "Poverty Day" numbers show deepening crisis for North Carolina's poor
The U.S. Census data reveals a bleak picture - and actually understates the impact on working families in North Carolina
RALEIGH (Sep. 29) - North Carolina's working families hadn't even recovered from the last recession before the most recent recession caused unemployment and poverty to increase, information released today by the U.S. Census today shows.
According to the third and final "Poverty Day" release of census data, North Carolina's poverty rates rose between 2007 and 2008, showing a significant increase over 2000  - and the worst is yet to come.
"North Carolina's working families continue to face a painful struggle to provide basic needs like food and health care," said Meg Gray, policy analyst with the NC Justice Center's Budget & Tax Center. "Policy makers should take these numbers as an opportunity to enhance support for North Carolina families in crisis."
Poverty Rate

The Census' American Community Survey (ACS) recorded a slight increase in the share of North Carolinians living in poverty between 2007(14.4 percent) and 2008 (14.6 percent).
Significantly, the poverty rate is higher now than the 2000 rate of 13.1 percent, showing that working families have not recovered from the last recession, let alone begun to cope with this one. The shares of persons and families with incomes below the federal poverty level have increased over the past eight years.
The total share of North Carolina's children living in poverty also increased between 2007 (19.2 percent) and 2008 (19.5 percent). In 2000, 18.1 percent of our state's children were living in poverty.
North Carolina has the 16th highest total poverty and child poverty rates in the nation.
The bleak picture painted by these numbers is actually an understatement. The census data released today covers the calendar year 2008, a time before the current recession began in earnest.
During all of 2008, North Carolina shed 42,000 jobs. In 2009 alone, an additional 220,000 jobs have been lost. North Carolina's unemployment rate in Aug. 2008 was 6.6 percent; in August 2009 that rate had shot up to 10.8 percent.
Food stamp usage between August 2008 and August 2009 rocketed up 24 percent percent, placing a full 13 percent of North Carolina's population on this form of public assistance. None of these harrowing indicators of deepening poverty are reflected in today's numbers.
Reporters can use today's information release to find data on total poverty, family poverty and child poverty at both the state level and local level in North Carolina (for counties with populations of 65,000 or more).
Robeson County continues to have the highest poverty rate (of the 37 largest counties in NC) at 30.8%, a 2.1% percentage point increase since 2007.  Wilkes County saw the steepest increase in poverty between 2007 and 2008 climbing from 15.4% to 25.2%. 
Today's data drop is the last of three releases by the U.S. Census, using data from the Current Population Survey (CPS) and the American Community Survey (ACS). Earlier releases covered median household income, health care and more.
A link to a chart with information summaries for North Carolina and 37 counties within can be found here:
Median Household Income
The newest version of the American Community Survey (ACS) found last week that median household income in North Carolina basically held steady. Some intriguing median income findings included:
    • 2008 Median Income in North Carolina ($46,549) is a slight (yet statistically insignificant) increase over 2007 ($46,386)
    • 2008 NC Median Income is $5,480 below the national median income of $52,029.  The national median income fell by $661 between 2007 and 2008 (statistically significant drop)
    • NC ranks 39th out of 50 states in median income. In other words, 38 states have a higher median income than North Carolina including Georgia, Virginia, and Florida.
    • Of the 36 counties for which we have local data, Wake County had the highest median income in 2008 ($65,180) and Wilkes County had the lowest ($29,705)
    • Brunswick County experienced the largest gain in median income between 2007 and 2008, increasing by $6,511 to $46,179.
    • Wilkes County experienced the largest drop in median income between 2007 and 2008, decreasing by $6,000 to $29,705
Health Insurance
Data from the Current Population Survey (CPS) show that roughly one in six North Carolinians lacked health coverage in 2007 and 2008. This crisis, which again almost certainly worsened in 2009 because of the recession, highlights the need to enact comprehensive health care reform.
"These numbers demonstrate the need to pass comprehensive health reform this year," said Adam Searing, director of the North Carolina Justice Center's Health Access Coalition. "More and more North Carolinians are losing their jobs and their insurance. We must ensure that these families have access to affordable, quality health coverage regardless of age or health status."
Nearly 16 percent (15.9 percent) of North Carolinians were uninsured in 2007-2008, compared with 13.4 percent at the start of the decade (2000-2001).
Strategies for Change
"The worst is yet to come in terms of North Carolina families entering poverty," said Louisa Warren, policy advocate at the NC Justice Center. "Now is the time for lawmakers at the state and federal level to maintain critical public investments and enact forward-thinking policies that prevent poverty and rebuild the middle class."
To stimulate the economy in the short-term, federal lawmakers should extend unemployment benefits to help the jobless cope with a loss of income, enhance food stamp benefits to allow low-income families to meet rising food prices and provides states with aid to offset diminishing revenues and avoid harmful service reductions, especially in health care programs.
To address the longer-term issue of rebuilding America's middle class, legislators should take up strategies that increase unionization, such as the Employee Free Choice Act
At the state level, lawmakers should expand the Earned Income Tax Credit, which assists working families, and maintain vital public investments in core services. Services such as education, health care, and child care subsidies provide needed aid to struggling North Carolinians and help working families stay on their feet.
FOR MORE INFORMATION, CONTACT: Meg Gray, Policy Analyst, NC Budget & Tax Center, (919) 856-3192; Adam Searing, Director, NC Health Access Coalition, (919) 856-2568; Louisa Warren, Policy Advocate, NC Justice Center, (919) 856-2183; Jeff Shaw, Communications Director, NC Justice Center, (919) 863-2402.