Raleigh (Sept. 14, 2017) — Despite national improvements, more than 1.5 million North Carolinians lived in poverty and struggled to make ends meet in 2016, according to new data released today from the Census Bureau. People and communities across the state still face barriers to getting ahead such as lack of access to good-paying jobs, unaffordable childcare, little access to public transportation to get to work, and inadequate education and job training resources.

Although there were small improvements between 2015 and 2016, the number of people struggling to pay the bills remains high and is holding back our economy. 15.4 percent North Carolinians lived in poverty in 2016, living on less than $24,600 a year for a family of four. One in 4 North Carolina kids are growing up in families that can’t give them a good start to in life because they are paid wages too low to afford the basics.

“For too many families in North Carolina, economic opportunity is out of reach,” said Alexandra Sirota, Director of the Budget & Tax Center, a project of the NC Justice Center. “The fact that more than 15 percent of our residents in lack basic economic security is a drag on our state’s overall economy and quality of life.”

The new Census data show that North Carolina’s families are still dealing with high rates of poverty, stagnant incomes, and widespread income inequality:

  • North Carolina’s poverty rate is 1.4 percentage points higher than the U.S. poverty rate, and has the 13th highest poverty rate in the nation.
  • The state poverty rate (15.4 percent) declined by one percentage point over the last year but remains 1.1 percent higher than 2007 when the Great Recession hit.
  • The state’s median income ($50,584) increased by a little over $2,000 from 2015, but is still $1,130 less than 2007 meaning there has been no progress in raising middle class living standards for the average North Carolinian since the beginning of the Great Recession.
  • 6.7 percent of North Carolinians live in extreme poverty, which means they live below less than half of the poverty line—or about $12,300 a year for a family of four.

The data also show that poverty continues to hit some groups harder:

  • Communities of color face significant barriers in North Carolina, including lack of access to quality education, housing segregation, and discrimination. The result is that they are more likely to struggle economically than whites. For example, in North Carolina, 23.5 percent of African Americans live below the official poverty line ($24,600 for a family of 4) compared with 10.8% of whites. Also, 27.3 percent of Latinx, 25.5 of American Indians, and 11.9 percent of Asian Americans live in poverty. This means that many aren’t sharing in our economic gains or able to fully contribute to the economic health of our community.
  • Children continue to experience higher rates of poverty than adults. In 2016, 21.7 percent, or 1 in 5 children lived in poverty compared to 9.4 percent of adults aged 65 and older.
  • Women face higher poverty rates than men, 16.7 percent compared to 14.1 percent, respectively.

“In order to grow a stronger and more inclusive economy for all of us in North Carolina, lawmakers must boost public investments to connect people to good-paying jobs, health care and education from early childhood to throughout their careers,” said Sirota.

For more information, contact Alexandra Sirota, Director of the Budget & Tax Center, at (919) 861-1468 or Alexandra@ncjustice.org; or Mel Umbarger, BTC Senior Communications Specialist, at mel@ncjustice.org.

The NC Justice Center is a research and advocacy organization whose mission is to eliminate poverty in North Carolina by ensuring that every household in the state has access to the resources, services and fair treatment it needs to achieve economic security.