NC JUSTICE NEWS: How to Build an Economy for All + Hurricane Matthew + Breakfast in Schools

October 18, 2016


How could raising the state minimum wage help build an economy that works for all? For starters, it could benefit North Carolina businesses and help workers, and provides a critical antidote to the ongoing boom in low-wage work.

A new brief on the state minimum wage is the first in a new series from the NC Justice Center, "How to Build an Economy that Works for All," which aims to establish policy priorities and proposals that policymakers can advance and North Carolinians can support throughout the election season and the start of the legislative session in January.

The first brief examines the state's current minimum wage of $7.25 — which simply isn't enough for families to make ends meet. At the current wage, a full-time minimum-wage worker earns approximately $15,080 per year, approximately $1,000 less than the federal poverty level for 2016 for a family of one adult and one child.

Our Policy Recommendation: North Carolina should raise the state’s minimum wage to a level that allows workers and their families to make ends meet and then index it to inflation to ensure that its purchasing power does not erode over time. Policymakers should look to states that have scheduled a phase-in of their minimum wage increases over time and provide different phase-in schedules for rural and urban areas, as it may take time for the positive spill-over effects in increased sales and productivity to compensate for the up-front increase in labor costs.

The policy series will run through at least Election Day, covering issues such as teacher pay, Medicaid expansion, the state Earned Income Tax Credit, and more. For more information, check out the Your Voice, Your Vote fact sheets and issue guides at

HURRICANE MATTHEW: State leaders must respond to needs of the displaced

The damage to communities and the lives of thousands of people in Eastern North Carolina from Hurricane Matthew is only just beginning to be clear. Preliminary reports show those who are being disproportionately displaced and face the greatest need are individuals and families living in poverty and communities of color.

In the days and weeks ahead, it is critical that our state leaders thoroughly document the needs in these communities and pursue innovative approaches to meeting those needs. There will be gaps in available federal assistance and it will be incumbent on North Carolina to come up with the ways to provide relief to those that may be initially left out of the recovery.

Here are just a few of those key principles that should be front and center in our state’s response:

  • Equity: It is already clear that low-income and North Carolinians of color have been disproportionately impacted; that is why the response must strive to ensure that the needs of all communities, particularly those who may be marginalized, are addressed.
  • Coordination: It goes with saying that recovery efforts need to be coordinated. Besides coordination of federal, state, and local government assistance, coordination is critical for efforts coming from the private sector, including faith-based organizations, philanthropic organizations, community-based groups, and businesses, to name a few.
  • Information: Those who are in need must know how to access the help available to them. Clear and constant communication with those individuals and communities facing homelessness, unemployment, hunger, and more must be a priority.
  • Accountability: The experience of past disasters in North Carolina and the nation demonstrates how important it is that emergency response and rebuilding are held accountable to affected communities. This means ensuring donations are received and services are delivered.
  • Responsibility:  While there is a need to be innovative in pursuing the resources that will be needed immediately and in the long-run to rebuild communities, the responsibility to fill in gaps and serve the people of North Carolina should reside with state leaders.

The measure of our state is in our response to real crises and in our commitment to a long-term rebuilding of communities that is both inclusive and recognizes resiliency is a necessary part of our policy and investment strategy.

BREAKFAST IN THE CLASSROOM:  Spread the word to help more students

North Carolina is among 10 new states selected to join an initiative, Partners for Breakfast in the Classroom (PBIC), which aims to increase the number of students at high-poverty schools participating in classroom breakfast programs. We need your help to spread the word about the PBIC initiative to local education leaders in your community and encourage them to apply for grant funding that is available to launch this initiative in their schools!

Nationally, more than 15 million – more than 1 in 5 of all children in the U.S. – lived in households that struggled with hunger in 2014. Only around half of children in low-income households who are eligible for free or reduced breakfast through the federal School Breakfast Program are eating it.

This program moves breakfast to the classroom and provides food for every child, regardless of income level. Providing breakfast in the classroom dramatically increases participation in the School Breakfast Program. Eating breakfast at school is associated with improved academic performance, health, and behavior, representing a win-win opportunity: It combats child hunger and boosts student success. It’s a positive step toward making sure that every North Carolina student receives a high quality education.

As part of the PBIC initiative, eligible North Carolina schools can apply for a grant that will be used to adopt a breakfast in the classroom program. The grant helps high-need schools and districts cover the up-front costs associated with the startup and implementation of breakfast in the classroom. To learn more about the PBIC initiative and grant qualification criteria, visit

Spread the word about the Partners for Breakfast in the Classroom (PBIC) initiative to local education leaders in your community and encourage them to apply for a PBIC grant. As a state PBIC partner, the Budget & Tax Center is happy to provide additional information about the initiative – feel free to reach out to Cedric Johnson at

POVERTY PERSISTS: State facing higher rates of deep, child poverty

It's unfortunately increasingly clear that North Carolina’s economy isn’t working for everyone. And for some it’s downright broken.

Poverty in North Carolina is still higher than it was prior to the recession, with the state facing higher rates of poverty, deep poverty, and child poverty than most of the U.S. Across the state, 1.6 million North Carolinians live in poverty – meaning a family of four living on $24,250 or less per year – and find affording the basics such as rent, food, and utilities to be a daily challenge.

Far too many families wake up to financial insecurity every morning as the shortage of jobs paying family-supporting wages persists, household income re-mains below pre-recession levels, and the gap between the wealthy and everyone else widens. Race, gender, age, and location all play significant roles in poverty:

  • Poverty has the fiercest grip on children—especially children of color—compared to any other age group.
  • Since 2007, the poverty rate for Hispanics or Latinxs has increased by 5 percentage points compared to less than 2 percentage points for all other major racial groups
  • The 2015 poverty rate for women in the state was 17.8 percent versus 14.9 percent for men.
  • In 2015, Latina, American Indian, and African-American women were more than twice as likely to live in poverty as Asian and white women
  • Older women are far more likely to struggle to make ends meet than men: 11.0 percent of women over 65 lived in poverty compared to 6.9 percent of men in 2015
  • The 20 highest county-level poverty rates in 2014 were all in rural counties yet urban and suburban areas are also contending with the growing concentration of poverty

North Carolina’s off-kilter economy and policymakers’ decisions are responsible for the state’s enduring high poverty. Until local, state, and federal lawmakers fix the state’s and the nation’s broken economic model, too many people across the state will wake up to poverty, struggle to put food on the table, and be unable to afford the basics like rent and child care.

ELECTION PROTECTION: Democracy NC works to protect the rights of voters

Our partners at Democracy North Carolina are hosting an Election Protection program, just another way the organization works to protect the rights of voters. They’re currently recruiting Vote Protectors for Fall 2016 by training and deploying volunteers to monitor key precincts in counties all over the state on Election Day to help voters cast their ballot and connect them with experts when they have problems.

Click on the links below for more information on how you can get involved:

Questions? Email Isela Gutierrez for more information. Also check out Democracy NC's Hot Tips for Voting!

Research & Publications: