MEDIA RELEASE: Poverty in North Carolina at highest rates since 1981

MEDIA RELEASE: Poverty in North Carolina at highest rates since 1981
Low- and middle-income families experience a “lost decade” due to unemployment, slow job growth

RALEIGH (Oct. 6, 2011) – Driven by persistent weaknesses in the economy, the poverty rate in North Carolina jumped from 14.1 percent in 2001 to 17.5 in 2010, according to a new report, resulting in a “lost decade” for low- and middle-income families.

North Carolinians at the bottom of the income scale fell further behind during the decade, according to a report released today by the North Carolina Budget & Tax Center, as job creation slowed, leading to increased unemployment. The 24.5 percent jump in poverty over the last decade corresponds to more than 517,000 North Carolinians living below the federal poverty time. The poverty rate is now at its highest since 1981, the report said.

“While the 1990s was a decade of economic expansion, the 2000s represent a lost decade for families in North Carolina,” said Tazra Mitchell, a fellow with the BTC and author of the report. “Policymakers need to consider the decade-long trends of growing poverty when proposing solutions to ease economic distress in North Carolina.”

Over the decade, the median household income in North Carolina dropped nearly 10 percent, from $47,823 in 2011 to $43,326 in 2010. The percentage of people living below 50 percent of the federal income – an income of $11,157 for a family of four – climbed to 7.8 percent.

Although the state’s working-age population grew by nearly 820,000 individuals over the decade, there are now approximately 356,600 fewer working-age adults employed than there were in 2001.The report found that poverty also rose for North Carolina’s children over the last decade, with more than 166,000 children falling into poverty. In 2001, one in five children lived in poverty. By 2010, the number had risen to 1 in 4.

As job seekers remain unemployed and the share of working families earning low incomes increases, new policies must reflect the need for restructuring of the economy and its effect on North Carolina’s workers, the report said.

“Policies that rebuild the state’s economy must not just contend with the impact of the Great Recession, but should address the longer‐term trends—the growth of low‐wage work, for example—that have created an economy characterized by persistent and growing poverty and a struggling middle class,” Mitchell said.

FOR MORE INFORMATION CONTACT: Alexandra Sirota, Director, NC Budget & Tax Center, alexandra@ncjustice.org, 919.861.1468; Jeff Shaw, Director of Communications, NC Justice Center, jeff@ncjustice.org, 503.551.3615 (cell).

The N.C. Budget and Tax Center—a project of the N.C. Justice Center—seeks to create economic opportunity and shared prosperity for all North Carolinians through non-partisan research, education and advocacy on budget, tax and economic issues.