NC JUSTICE NEWS: Poverty Across North Carolina + Wage Theft + Taxes and "Skin in the Game"

September 25, 2012

NC POVERTY: Rate up more than 25% since start of Great Recession

North Carolina's poverty rate has jumped more than 25 percent since the start of the Great Recession, with nearly 1.7 million North Carolinians officially living in poverty last year.

New data from the Census Bureau shows that despite the economic recovery, the number of North Carolinians living in poverty remained high last year. The state's modest recovery wasn't enough to make up for the North Carolina's job deficit, high unemployment, and growth of low-wage work.

Certain communities have been hit harder by the Great Recession than others. Nine of the 10 highest county-level poverty rates were in rural areas, with the highest county-level rate in Robeson County, where 1 in 3 residents live in poverty. The poverty rate for children was above the state rate at 25.6 percent. Women, individuals with low educational attainment, and communities of color also experienced higher rates of poverty, with 28 percent of African Americans, 34.9 percent of Latinos, and 27 percent of American Indians living in poverty.

Reversing the trend of poverty takes hard work and long-term investments. It requires adopting economic policies that can help generate jobs that offer a living wage and benefits, and NOT dismantling any work supports that help alleviate poverty, such as the Earned Income Tax Credit, or reduce support for critical safety net programs that help provide food, housing and energy assistance for struggling families.

Poverty is rarely discussed among policymakers. As poverty rates remain resistant to the economic recovery, now is the time to change the discussion. Raise your voice to declare that persistently high poverty rates are unacceptable in North Carolina. Sign the pledge to talk about poverty.

WAGE THEFT: 10 NC workers share their stories

Wage theft is a growing epidemic. When an employer underpays or fails to pay wages to workers who have earned those wages, workers face severe financial consequences. In a new report, 10 Triangle-area workers share their own experiences of wage theft, illustrating how workers — as well as their families and local economies — suffer when they are not paid earned wages.

Wage theft and low-wage work often go hand in hand, and low-wage workers often have the most to lose. Underpayment or nonpayment of a single paycheck can translate to an inability to pay bills or afford basic needs like housing and sufficient food. Moreover, workers may choose to not report wage theft because they fear retaliation or have difficulty finding means of redress due to lack of information or adequate finances.

In the report, a construction worker named Carlos reveals how he received only partial payment for his work, was denied his final paycheck at one job, and at another was forced to work overtime but was not paid overtime wages. "One has to endure it because there is no other way out," he said. Roger, who worked in the restaurant industry, said that most workers felt like there was "literally nothing you can do besides go to the labor board, which so far has — from my experience, from watching — has done nothing."

Although it's clear that North Carolina policymakers need to address obstacles to remedying wage theft and develop stiffer penalties for violating the law, addressing wage theft in isolation isn't enough. In addition to ensuring that workers are paid for the work they do, policymakers must ensure that jobs pay living wages and enable workers to support themselves and their families.

"SKIN IN THE GAME": Everyone pays taxes

Recent claims have suggested that almost half of Americans pay no taxes and that these individuals need to pay more income taxes so that they have "skin in the game."

What these claims don't tell you is that all Americans already have "skin in the game." Even though 47% of Americans may not have paid federal income tax in 2011, they pay taxes in nearly every other aspect of their life. They pay state income taxes; they pay taxes through their job with payroll taxes; on their homes in the form of property tax; and in their everyday lives, every time they shop at a store and pay sales tax.

What these claims don't tell you is that roughly two-thirds of those who didn't pay federal income taxes did pay payroll taxes through their jobs. Seniors make up approximately 25% of families who don't currently pay federal income tax, but did contribute to payroll taxes into the federal retirement programs during the decades they were part of the workforce.

The others who didn't pay federal income taxes are the students who earned less than $25,000 per year with $10,000 of expenses for tuition. They're the single parent with one child who earns less than $30,000 per year. And they're the enlisted soldiers with less than eight years of service. Many of these individuals are likely to pay federal income tax in the future when they enter the workforce. They, too, already have "skin in the game."

NC JUSTICE CENTER SURVEY: Complete poll for chance to win gift card

What do you think are the most important issues facing North Carolina? Do you think North Carolina is on the right or wrong track? Do you plan on voting this November?

These are just a few of the questions from our new survey. Complete the poll for a chance to win a $50 or $25 gift card. Your answers will help us fight more effectively for opportunity and prosperity for all.

HEALTH CARE EVENTS: Campaign for Better Care, ACA "True Stories"

Join the NC Justice Center and partners for two upcoming health care events and make your voice heard on one of the most important, complex issues in North Carolina today.

On Thursday, September 27, the NC Justice Center and AARP will host a Campaign for Better Care community meeting. Come and share your experiences about what you think needs to be changed in our health system, and take advantage of the expertise offered from the AARP and the Seniors’ Health Insurance Information Program (SHIIP) and others. The event will be held from 10:00 a.m.-12:00 p.m. at the North Mecklenburg Senior Center, 16601 Old Statesville Road in Huntersville. To reserve your seat, contact the Senior Center at 704-875-1270 or northmeckdirector@cmseniorcenters.org or Nicole Dozier, 919-856-2146 or nicole@ncjustice.org.

On Sunday, September 30, the WNC Health Advocates (formerly Life o' Mike) will present "True Stories," an event offering information on the Affordable Care Act, changes to the state’s mental health system and more. The event includes a PowerPoint presentation on how the law affects real people and their families, information from experts on mental health, children’s health, disabilities and more, plus myths and facts about the law and a timeline of its implementation. The event will be held from 3-5 p.m. on Sept. 30 in the chapel of First Baptist Church, Oak Street in Asheville. For more information call 828-243-6712 or e-mail leslie@wnchealthadvocates.org.

CRUCIAL CONVERSATION: NC Policy Watch event on wage theft

NC Policy Watch will an important Crucial Conversation luncheon this week, featuring one of the foremost experts on the rampant issue of wage theft in the U.S.

Next up: Join NC Policy Watch on Thursday, September 27 for a talk by Kim Bobo, founder and director of the national advocacy organization, Interfaith Worker Justice. Bobo will explain how wage theft and other abuses are robbing many workers of the compensation and benefits to which they are entitled. Register here for this event.

The event will be held at the Center for Community Leadership Training Room at the Junior League of Raleigh Building, 711 Hillsborough St. in Raleigh.

WORK-FAMILY POLICIES: Join NC Families Care for Women @ Work

The majority of North Carolina’s workers have caregiving responsibilities, but almost half of the private-sector work force lacks access to paid sick days and even fewer have access to longer-term paid leave. So what happens when a child gets sick and can’t go to daycare, when a family need time to care for a new baby, or when an elderly parent needs to go to the doctor? The best case scenario for many workers is a day or more without pay, the worst case is job loss. In a time when job security is tenuous and unemployment remains high, work-family policies are crucial job retention policies.

That’s why NC Families Care, a coalition working for better work-family policies, is excited to have a presence at Carolina Parent’s Women @ Work breakfast on Thursday, September 27, where 50 of North Carolina’s most family-friendly businesses will be honored. Join us! Tickets are still available here.

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