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Urban poverty

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‘Nobody’s going to think of Mecklenburg as poor but...’

The UNC Center for Poverty, Work and Opportunity will be coming to Mecklenburg County this summer to spotlight poverty in our midst. Few who live here will be surprised that such poverty exists. But most might find this disturbing: The UNC Center will soon issue a report showing that the urban poor in places like Mecklenburg are worse off than those in rural areas like Robeson County.

Comparing the two groups, urban census tracts contain higher poverty rates for all ages, lower per capita incomes, higher unemployment rates, higher percentages of racial minorities, higher rates of families with children headed by single women, lower graduation rates and lower rates of home ownership than rural census tracts.

“We did some work looking at census tracts, neighborhoods, and the most intense poverty in North Carolina is in the middle of Mecklenburg County, the middle of Durham County, the middle of Wake County, the middle of Greensboro and the middle of Winston-Salem,” said Gene Nichol, director of the UNC Center. “It’s this very intense, deep poverty in urban neighborhoods that is more – well, it can’t be more troubling than the poverty in eastern North Carolina but by regular measures, it’s more intense. Nobody’s ever going to think of Mecklenburg County as a poverty county nor should they.” But urban poverty is a big problem, he said.

In fact, 63 of the 100 concentrated poverty areas in North Carolina are in urban counties. Adds Nichol: “The second highest food insecurity in the United States is in Greensboro and High Point.”

The sheer number of Mecklenburg County residents in poverty increased by 58 percent between 2005 and 2010. For comparison, the overall population of Mecklenburg County increased by only 18 percent over the same time period.

Effectively tackling both urban and rural poverty will require reconsidering policy choices being made at both the federal and state level, Nichol said.

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