Prosperity Watch Issue 6

Prosperity Watch Issue 6, No. 3: Mapping North Carolina's Food Environment

As Thanksgiving approaches, the North Carolina Budget and Tax Center released a report today that found nearly 1 in 4 North Carolinians faced food hardship in 2010. The report also found that 1 in 5 also received food stamps, also known as Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), last month. SNAP has effectively connected many low-income North Carolinians (and Americans) with the support to purchase the food that their families need to develop and grow.

But growing evidence from research across the country and in North Carolina suggests that low-income families face an additional barrier to accessing healthy food: their built environment. For many low-income families living in poor neighborhoods or rural communities, stores with produce are hard to reach.

Analysis of data from the Department of Agriculture’s Food Environment Atlas suggests that more than one-fourth of low-income households in North Carolina live more than a mile from a grocery store. For these households, who are less likely to have a vehicle, getting to food is often a challenge. Analysis of county-level data in North Carolina finds that in 14 counties more than half of the households with no vehicle live more than 10 miles to a grocery store. These are measures of distance to all supermarkets or grocery stores.

For access to stores that accept food stamps, the data suggest that many of the counties with the highest concentration of SNAP-authorized stores are in more rural areas and more likely to have a larger percentage of households without a vehicle more than 10 miles from any grocery store. As illustrated in the map below, counties located in Eastern North Carolina—Hyde, Washington, Halifax, Bertie, Chowan, Jones, and Tyrrell—rank among the top 15 counties for both variables. These Eastern North Carolina counties also experienced some of the highest increases in food stamp participation rates over the course of the Great Recession.


The ability to meet the nutritional needs of one’s family is fundamental to healthy development and is impacted not just by financial resources but by a neighborhood’s built environment and food infrastructure. Indeed, numerous studies have shown that a person’s quality of life is, in part, driven by the neighborhood in which they live and his or her ability to access affordable, healthy food. For instance, one study found lower rates of obesity in adults who live in neighborhoods where a supermarket or grocery store is present.

As long as communities face a grocery gap or fail to offer connections to healthy food, many families will continue to struggle with hunger and bad health outcomes.

Prosperity Watch Issue 6, No. 2: Plight of North Carolina Jobseekers Even Worse than 10.5% Unemployment Rate Suggests

The big labor market news in North Carolina last month was the increase in the state’s unemployment rate to a 15-month high of 10.5%. As devastating as it is for more than one in ten North Carolina job seekers to be out of work, even this statistic masks the true depth of the jobs crisis in the state.

In addition to the monthly unemployment rate, the US Bureau of Labor Statistics also publishes a broader measure of un- and under-employment that provides a fuller representation of the plight of workers. This measure (published as the “U-6 measure of labor underutilization”) includes not only individuals actively seeking work but also includes involuntary part-time workers and individuals classified as “marginally attached” to the labor force (i.e. individuals having sought work in the past twelve months but not in the past four weeks ).

This U-6 measure, illustrated in green in the chart below, shows that nearly one in five workers in North Carolina want, but have been unable to secure, full-time employment. Prior to the recession, only one in twelve North Carolina workers had been unable to secure full-time employment.

The rise in underemployment since 2007 has been even more dramatic than the increase in the traditional unemployment rate (the U-3 measure). Back in 2007, the gap between the unemployment rate and the underemployment rate was only 4.0 percentage points. As of the most recent data release, that gap had risen to 7.4 percentage points.

North Carolina’s persistently high underemployment rate demonstrates that the jobs gap of nearly 500,000 jobs actually underestimates what is needed to satisfy the demands of the state’s jobseekers. Furthermore, it’s clear that the economy needs to create more full-time jobs – not just any jobs – to enable working North Carolinians to make ends meet in the months and years ahead.

Prosperity Watch Issue 6, No. 1: Families with Children Were Hit Harder
by the Great Recession

Median family income—the dollar amount in the middle of the income scale—in North Carolina dropped 6.5 percent from 2000 to 2010. Families with children saw their real income fall by a higher rate compared to families without children, 7.4 percent and 6.8 percent respectively. Compounding this overall loss in income for North Carolina’s families are a 17.5 percent poverty rate, a 10.5 percent unemployment rate, and growing income inequality.

In 2000, the median family income for all North Carolinian families was $56,465—in 2010 inflation-adjusted dollars. North Carolina had the fourteenth lowest median family income in the United States and third lowest in the South Atlantic. Fast-forward to 2010, the median family income in the state was $52,920. North Carolina’s ranking dropped to the twelfth lowest median family income nationally and remained ranked third in the South Atlantic.

As illustrated in the figure below, middle-class families in the state were slightly gaining economic ground until 2007—the year that median family income peaked from 2000 to 2010. In the face of the Great Recession, families saw a steep drop in their real income. From 2007 to 2010, median family income declined by $4,945, in 2010 inflation-adjusted dollars. The decline is even more dramatic for families with children under 18 years old. This value fell $5,253 or about $1,751 per year, exceeding the $4,390 drop in income experienced by families with no children. $1,751 is worth about one month of health care for a family of four and one month of childcare for one infant and one school-age child.

*In order for the percent changes to be additive over the two periods, percent changes are changes in natural logs.
*Source: North Carolina Budget and Tax Center’s Analysis of the Census Bureau’s American  Community Survey, for years 2000 to 2010.

Family income provides one measure of the ability of families to meet the costs of housing in safe neighborhoods, nutritious food, health care, and high-quality child care. Research suggests that family income can influence child and adolescent well-being, such as levels of achievement, educational attainment, and adult earnings and work hours. Researchers found that a $3,000 annual increase in childhood income for families with children under the age of five can make a meaningful difference, or a 17 percent increase, in higher earnings as an adult. Families with children lost more than that amount over the Great Recession.