MEDIA RELEASE: Report finds 10 NC counties had high poverty rates over three decades

Counties were persistently poor, with 20 percent or more of population living in poverty

RALEIGH (Jan. 25, 2012) – 10 North Carolina counties were persistently poor in 2000, a new report finds, meaning they had high poverty rates every year for three decades, according to U.S. Census data from 1970-2000.

The NC Budget & Tax Center, a project of the NC Justice Center, released a report this morning that finds 20 percent or more of 10 North Carolina county populations lived in persistent poverty, which is defined by both the percentage of people living in poverty and the period of time that the poverty rate has remained high in a geographic region. Persistent poverty was concentrated in the eastern region of the state, the report finds, where counties had little diversification of employment, fewer adults and teachers with advanced degrees, a lack of affordable, adequate housing, and poor access to health care.

As of 2000, there were 10 counties in North Carolina that could be defined as “persistently poor”: Bertie, Bladen, Columbus, Halifax, Martin, Northampton, Pitt, Robeson, Tyrrell, and Washington counties.

“Living in a community of persistent poverty limits the opportunities of residents, and represents a challenge to not only regional economic development but the state’s overall economic growth,” said Alexandra Forter Sirota, director of the NC Budget & Tax Center and author of the report. “When generations of communities cannot access tools and systems that support mobility and prosperity, it becomes difficult for these areas to reduce the economic hardship of their residents.”

Persistent poverty, primarily a rural phenomenon in the United States, has endured due to factors such as physical isolation and exploitation of labor and natural resources, the report said. Many communities in North Carolina are currently disconnected from good jobs, growing industries, and networks that can help connect residents to economic opportunity.

The brief also points out that all of North Carolina’s persistent poor counties are in the eastern region of the state and the northern tip of the “Black Belt,” a crescent of economically distressed communities that stretches south to Louisiana. Tracing back to earlier generations of slavery and segregation, these communities have long struggled to connect with opportunities that generate improved economic outcomes such as education, employment, infrastructure, and technology, the brief finds, leaving few opportunities for employment and advancement.

“The lack of wealth, few employment opportunities and a crumbling opportunity structure in these communities makes it difficult for local governments to overcome the legacy of persistent hardship and provide pathways to mobility,” Sirota said. “State policymakers must utilize place‐based solutions to support economic opportunity across the state and level the playing field for all communities.”

FOR MORE INFORMATION CONTACT: Alexandra Forter 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.