Center on Poverty, Work & Opportunity Newsletter

Center on Poverty, Work & Opportunity Newsletter: Wednesday, January 7, 2015


The Poverty Center is delighted to announce that it has been awarded a two-year grant from the Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation. The grant will fund the Center’s community engagement work, Exploring Economic Distress in North Carolina Communities. This project deepens our investigation into economic deprivation in the state that we began with such efforts as the Seeing the Invisible series in the N&O. In collaboration with local partners, we will combine demographic and economic data with on-the-ground interviews to produce reports and other products that will give a full picture of poverty and economic challenge in specific communities across the state and spur discussion, boost public understanding, serve local leaders, agencies and nonprofits and inform constituents.

We’re grateful to the Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation for their support and recognition of this important work.

In other news, Joe Polich, the Center’s postdoctoral fellow, presented an hour-long crash course to VISTA volunteers on poverty, low wage jobs and barriers to re-entry for formerly incarcerated individuals. Joe also helped to train law students on culturally competent lawyering and (with a former Poverty Center extern) helped to build a playground for PLM Families Together, an organization that assists the recently homeless transition out of homelessness. Center director, Gene Nichol, traveled down the road to Durham to deliver a lecture on "Poverty, North Carolina and the American Flight from Equality" as part of the Duke Human Rights Center's "The 99%" series. He also introduced the premiere of "A Generation of Change: Bill Friday, Terry Sanford, and North Carolina from the 1920s-1972," a new documentary (see Events section for more information).

Analysis and Commentary

New low wage website

About one of three workers in North Carolina work in a low wage job. Low wage work is a growing part of the state economy and an important component of our national dialog on poverty, economic mobility and inequality. For these reasons, the Center is excited to present a powerful new website that allows visitors to explore and analyze low wage work in North Carolina. The site is loaded with a rich array of data, analysis and customizable graphics. In addition, much of the data can be shared and downloaded for further analysis.

The website was designed for the Poverty Center by master’s students in the UNC Department of City and Regional Planning. They were supervised by Professor T. William Lester, one of the country’s foremost experts on the impact of minimum wage and living wage policies on urban economic development.

The website contains demographic information, industry and occupational data, trends in low wage work, and related policy considerations. We hope this site will serve as a useful tool for reporters, teachers, policymakers, nonprofit and grassroots organizations, and anyone interested in the state of low wage work today.

The State of Low Wage Work in North Carolina:

As an example of the site's capabilities, when viewed online the following graphic (located at can be filtered, shared and downloaded. Check it out and let us know what you think!

Low wage work by educational attainment

Poverty widespread throughout North Carolina

In December, the US Census Bureau released poverty data at the census tract level (census tracts are sub-county geographic regions set by the Census Bureau with about 4000 individuals, on average). The state map below clearly shows high poverty rural tracts; the more detailed city maps that follow demonstrate that poverty is not solely a rural issue.

State map of poverty by census tract
Map of poverty by census tract, Greensboro and Winston-Salem
Map of poverty by census tract, Charlotte
Map of poverty by census tract, Durham and Raleigh

Event Spotlight

Generation of Change logo Tune in to UNC-TV on Thursday, January 8 at 10 p.m. for a statewide broadcast of A Generation of Change: Bill Friday, Terry Sanford, and North Carolina from the 1920s-1972. This new documentary focuses on some of this state's greatest leaders: the forces that shaped them, the challenges they faced and the mark they left on the state. Although not a Poverty Center production (that honor belongs to Video Dialog), this insightful look at a pivotal era in North Carolina history has a number of connections with the Center. Not only were we blessed to have Bill Friday on our board, the film represents Gene Nichol's first foray into the role of executive producer!

Earlier this fall, the Center hosted a conversation with prominent constitutional scholar and UNC Law professor, Michael Gerhardt. Gerhardt, the Samuel Ashe Distinguished Professor in Constitutional Law, discussed the recent state law that removes civil cases with a constitutional claim from local superior courts to a special three judge court located in Wake County. The judges serving on this panel are selected by the Chief Justice of the NC Supreme Court. No other state has created this type of court and while proponents tout its efficiency and fairness, critics raise their own questions of fairness, political subterfuge, and separation of powers. Gerhardt discussed the ramifications and motivations for the law with a large classroom of UNC law students.

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Center staff wish you and yours a bright and joyful New Year!

For more information about the Poverty Center or to reach a staff person, please email or call 919.445.0182.

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