N.C. poverty rate soars

Published 12:41 am Thursday, September 29, 2011

North Carolina’s poverty rate has soared since the start of the Great Recession, reaching 17.5 percent of the state’s population in 2010, an advocacy group announced recently.

The Old North State’s poverty rate has climbed 22 percent since the recession began in 2007, according to the N.C. Budget & Tax Center, a project of the left-leaning North Carolina Justice Center.

Local numbers also help tell the story of poverty’s rise.

In Beaufort County, more people had begun seeking some forms of public aid and private charitable assistance before Hurricane Irene devastated local communities Aug. 27.

Irene’s visit to Beaufort County was expected to push more people toward or beyond the poverty line.

In August 2010, the Beaufort County Department of Social Services recorded 4,054 cases, or 8,732 recipients, of food-stamp aid, said Sylvia King, income-maintenance program manager for DSS.

By August of this year, the number of cases had risen to 4,608, or 9,540 individual recipients.

Eagle’s Wings, a Washington-based food pantry, reports a 30-percent rise in its client numbers over 2010.

From January through June, the nonprofit tallied 3,961 individuals passing through its doors to claim the food necessary to their survival. Some of these individuals may have sought help more than once, related Sally Love, executive director.

Again, these figures predated Hurricane Irene.

Though long-term economic difficulties are on Eagle’s Wings’ radar, Love’s more immediate concern is for Irene victims who were displaced by the storm.

“It’s a long-term problem, and it’s not going to go away,” she said.

People may help Eagle’s Wings provide free food to residents by making monetary donations to the entity or contributing canned goods or other items with long shelf lives, Love pointed out.

For more information, call Eagle’s Wings at 252-975-1138 or visit www.eagles-wings.org.

The Budget & Tax Center cited U.S. census data in its poverty report, authored by director Alexandra Forter Sirota.

“The 368,614 North Carolinians newly pushed into poverty over this period (2009-2010) are roughly equivalent to the population in all 24 of the state’s smallest counties,” reads a news release from the center.

“More than 728,000 North Carolinians were living in deep poverty last year, the report said, meaning that a family is earning just half of the annual income threshold ($22,134) identified as the federal poverty line,” the release notes.

“We’ve looked definitely at the interaction between the Great Recession and the poverty rate,” Sirota said in a telephone interview. “Obviously, we’ve seen it pick up significantly.”

Asked to identify solutions, Sirota pointed toward a continued public-private investment in creating jobs and growing the economy.

“I think a real focus on gradual improvement in the economy is essential, and that isn’t going to happen on its own,” she said.