Center on Poverty, Work & Opportunity Newsletter

Center on Poverty, Work & Opportunity Newsletter: Monday, December 2, 2013

Center Happenings

Recent Poverty Center events

On November 4, the UNC Center on Poverty, Work and Opportunity hosted "Democracy and American Campaign Finance: A Discussion of McCutcheon v. F.E.C." Panel speakers included two of the nation's leading experts on election law and the first amendment, UNC Law's Bill Marshall and Duke Law's Guy-Uriel Charles.

The UNC Center on Poverty, Work and Opportunity co-hosted "Poverty, Partnerships and the Public Good: A Call for Engagement by North Carolina Institutions" with the UNC Program on Public Life at the School of Journalism and Mass Communication on Monday, November 25. The event was a day-long convening to discuss the challenges faced by low income North Carolinians and the opportunities for public and private institutions to address those challenges. Stay tuned for more information on our website in the coming days about the event.

Nichol receives Faculty Council's Thomas Jefferson Award

On October 5, Gene Nichol was presented with the Thomas Jefferson Award by the University's Faculty Council for his commitment to work on behalf of North Carolina's poor. The Thomas Jefferson Award was established to recognize a faculty member whose work "has best exemplified the ideals and objectives of Thomas Jefferson."

In his presentation of the award, faculty member and Center advisory board member Patrick Conway said, "[t]here is to my mind a lamentable tendency among our political leaders, both Democrat and Republican, to ignore the poor as a group with no influence. Professor Nichol speaks for that group, and through his testimony makes visible the sufferings that they endure." For additional coverage of the award and Professor Nichol's work, see the University Gazette's recent article.

Center Publications

This year, Director Gene Nichol will write a monthly column, Seeing the Invisible, about poverty in North Carolina to be published in the News & Observer on the last Sunday of each month.

We hope you will join us in this examination of the faces and issues of poverty in our state. See the recent articles below.

In urban North Carolina, deep pockets of misery are masked

News & Observer, September 29, 2013

It's common to think of North Carolina poverty on a rural-urban axis. We've become a state, the narrative goes, of booming, economically vibrant metropolitan centers accompanied by in many instances struggling, chronically poor rural communities. The traditional portrait is accurate, so far as it goes. Per capita income is markedly higher in urban counties. Poverty and unemployment rates, on average, are elevated in rural ones. Our policy framework, understandably, reflects the divide. What the Department of Commerce designates as "Tier One" counties – the most economically distressed – frequently qualify for more generous subsidies and development incentives. Listed Tier One counties surprise no one: Hoke, Scotland, Robeson, Lenoir, Halifax, Wilson and others in the east. Cherokee, Clay, Swain and the like in the west. Obviously, Wake, Durham, Mecklenburg, Guilford and Forsyth are nowhere to be found. But averages can be deceiving.

Read the full article .

Most of NC's poor cannot afford legal representation

News & Observer, October 27, 2013

For the last three years, Tina Pope has lived in small, dilapidated, dangerous house in Henderson. The city has now moved to condemn it. The landlord expected her to continue to pay rent even after inspectors reported code violations in July. She works two jobs to try to keep her family afloat. Wiring is perilously exposed. Rats have gnawed cabinets to pieces. There is no furnace or working heat stove. Broken windows have gone unrepaired, with bed sheets replacing them, summer and winter. The house is dark with mold – covering mattresses, furniture, walls, bathtub, sink. Tina's son, Rhontavius, uses a nebulizer and coughs throughout the year. He has frequently awakened his mother at night, crying of bug bites. An inspector, who claimed she'd been doing inspections since Lassie was on TV, said it was the worst she'd ever seen. "No one should live like this."

After many months trying to get the landlord to do his duty, Pope went to see Gina Reyman, an attorney at Legal Aid of Durham. Because of imminent threats to health and possible liability for continuing to live in a condemned house, Reyman was able to assign higher priority to Pope's case than a run-of-the-mill landlord-tenant dispute. She moved to trigger an array of legal protections and claims for relief.

Read the full article.

Selfless saints support North Carolina's poor with little help

News & Observer, November 24, 2013

Stunning and shameful deprivation exists in impoverished communities across North Carolina. Rural or urban, white or black, young or old, hidden or visible, our sisters and brothers too often face burdens and impairments that shouldn't be found in the world's richest society. This tragic truth can be ignored. It can't be refuted. But something else is frequently found in our poorest communities as well – a generosity, a selflessness, a resilience, a buoyancy, a commitment to service and a dedication to those who struggle, which is beyond my powers to describe and capability to understand. It is stunning what some people who don't have two dimes to rub together will do to lift those they believe to be even more heavily burdened. Mother Teresa would not have been lonely in North Carolina.

The Rev. Adeen George is a minister without a church. Her "parish" is the streets of Goldsboro's poorest neighborhoods. She laughs off labels like the "Saint of Slocumb Street" or "Angel of Webbtown." They always reappear.

Read the full article.

Center in the News

For the working poor, labor day carries a different meaning

Greensboro News & Record, September 2, 2013

"Under those federal figures, If you have a family of four and you're making $24,000 a year, you're not poor," said Gene Nichol, director of the Center on Poverty, Work and Opportunity at UNC-CH. "And that's ridiculous."

In most areas of North Carolina, Nichol said $23,550 for a family of four isn't enough to meet basic needs — they need twice that.

In the Triad, a number of studies have ranked the area among the nation's worst in terms of poverty and food hardship.

Said Nichol: "Most of the serious examinations of the poverty line indicate more realistically that there's a big gulf between the very stingy federal poverty standard and what it actually takes to get by."

Read the full article.

Continuing the assault on democracy (guest post by Gene Nichol as part of Constitution Day 2013)

American Constitution Society Blog, September 18, 2013

In October, the Roberts Court will hear yet another case designed to allow it to work its unfettered magic on American campaign finance. McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission will consider whether to unleash billions more dollars into the political system. As Ron White would put it, "now there's some good news."

McCutcheon asks, specifically, whether the almost forty-year-old aggregate limit on the amount any contributor can give directly to federal candidates and parties – now set at $123,200 – must fall. In what will likely be the Court's most fateful campaign reform decision since Citizens United, there's little doubt the cap will go. Who could possibly endure a political system that limits a person's direct contributions to a measly one-eighth of a million dollars per cycle?

Having already laid waste to expenditure limitations in Citizens United, McCutcheon will, for the first time, invalidate a federal campaign contribution limit. It won't be the last.

Read the full blog post.

Poverty amid Charlotte's riches (guest column by Mary Irvine)

Charlotte Observer, October 9, 2013

In what has been called the nation's "second financial capital after New York," sit neighborhoods with perhaps the state's most intense levels of poverty. In fact, in some areas, harsh, pervasive poverty is not just present, it is the norm. It is here where deprivation abounds, inequality is stark, and the surrounding wealth creates a concerning isolation.

New poverty data released in the past few weeks find 15.9 percent of Mecklenburg residents live in poverty – a figure too high by any measure, but not one that attracts attention when compared to other counties. However, the better-than-average poverty rate masks the deplorable truth. Just blocks from the riches that paint the city skyline are neighborhoods where more people than not are poor.

Read the full article.

The other Durham: Poverty up in poorest areas (guest column by Joe Polich)

The Herald Sun, October 22, 2013

John F. Kennedy, in a 1963 speech, optimistically spoke of the economy by saying "a rising tide lifts all boats." You would be hard pressed to find a more apt symbol of Durham's rising tide than the American Tobacco Campus.

The 19th century-era tobacco warehouses have evolved into a home for media outlets, trendy restaurants and 21st-entury tech giants. But not far from the campus are neighborhoods in Durham that slide further and further into the grips of poverty.

County-wide studies of poverty rates and unemployment rates obscure these neighborhoods and direct our attention to rural counties in the east and west. Of the 10 counties that have the highest unemployment and poverty rates, none has cities named Charlotte, Durham, Raleigh, Greensboro, Winston-Salem or Wilmington in them.

Read the full article.

Gene Nichol on WUNC's the State of Things talking about access to the civil justice system

WUNC's the State of Things, November 13, 2013

Professor Nichol joined Legal Aid of North Carolina client, Ashley Quinones, and chair of Legal Aid's Board of Directors, Charles Holton, on WUNC's the State of Things in November to discuss issues of access to the civil justice system. Represented by Legal Aid, Ms. Quinones, initially denied a needed kidney transplant by Medicaid, appealed her case and received the life-saving care she needed.

"We (in America) simply operate a legal system that goes under the working assumption that very high percentages of folks will be priced out of its use… It is inconsistent with the equal justice that we profess with the dedication to liberty and justice for all," said Gene Nichol, distinguished professor and director of the Center on Poverty, Work, and Opportunity at University of North Carolina School of Law.

Listen to the full segment.

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