Child poverty grows in North Carolina, Charlotte Observer (07.24.2012)
New predictions from economists and academics that poverty could reach its highest level since 1965 are troubling. Despite that, the plight of the poor has been given short-shrift by politicians.
Their policy decisions have shrunk the safety nets to help the poor even as the economy took a body slam over the last few years and has been slow to get off the mat, leaving many still jobless or underemployed. Analysts estimate that some 47 million Americans, or nearly 1 in 6, were poor last year.
A new report from the Annie E. Casey Foundation casts an even darker outlook for children. Child poverty increased 30 percent over the decade from 2000 to 2010. Analysts expect children’s 22 percent rate – outstripping the 15.1 percent overall poverty rate in the country in 2010 – will have grown again for 2011.
The Casey foundation’s KIDS COUNT project found mixed results for child well-being across the nation. Some measures have improved for children, including the percent of children with health insurance; others have declined, such as children in financially stable families. The biggest threat has been state policies that have cut programs and resources available to kids and their families.
North Carolina is a case in point. The state’s overall poverty rate was 17.8 percent in 2010 and its child poverty rate was 25 percent – above the national average. That means one in every four N.C. children now lives in poverty. Additionally, the percent of children living in families with no parent working full-time, year-round, increased from 28 percent in 2008 to 35 percent in 2010. Even more are expected in that category today.
Overall, the state ranks 34th in the well-being of children. The number of children living in high-poverty neighborhoods nearly tripled over the past decade, increasing from 76,000 in 2000 to 212,000. One in 11 children in the state now lives in a high-poverty community.
Unfortunately, some N.C. lawmakers have chosen to ignore all these facts. In March, N.C. Rep. George Cleveland, R-Onslow, made the astounding claim that no N.C. children live in “extreme poverty.” He also challenged Census data showing a growing number of poor N.C. children.
He was trying to use that argument to push for narrowing the eligibility for the state’s prekindergarten program. That’s the kind of ill-informed policymaking that the foundation’s report rightly points to as a threat to N.C. children and the prosperity of this state.
Notes Deborah Bryan, president and CEO of Action for Children North Carolina: “For more than two decades, North Carolina made intentional, sustained investments in programs that help improve the health and education of our children. Examples include pre-K programs which help narrow reading and math achievement gaps.”
She adds that “many of these investments have been eliminated or severely cut in the past two legislative sessions. Without a change in course from our elected leaders and recommitment to preserving the future health and prosperity of our state – our children – we can expect to see the damaging effects of these budget choices. North Carolina can, and must, do better for our children.”
We couldn’t have said it better.