Center on Poverty, Work & Opportunity Newsletter

Center on Poverty, Work & Opportunity Newsletter: Wednesday, April 8, 2015

From the Director

As many of you know, the UNC Board of Governors moved, a few weeks ago, to close the privately-funded Poverty Center. In an act of state-imposed censorship, the Board abolished an academic center because it disagreed with the published writings of the Center’s director. It would be hard to envision a more defining violation of academic freedom.

But as the Board announced its intentions, I am deeply touched to report, an impressive array of foundations and private donors stepped forward to assure that the work of the Center, if not the Center itself, will be able to continue at the University of North Carolina. Generous grants and donations will allow us to create the North Carolina Poverty Research Fund at the UNC Law School. This Fund will assure that our efforts to describe, document and combat the wrenching challenges of Tar Heel poverty continue and expand.

The Fund will allow us to hire student, faculty and post-doctorate scholars to assist me in probing the causes of, and solutions to, pervasive economic injustice. We will carry forward the work of the Center within the halls of the University with greater flexibility and increased resources. North Carolinians are not easily cowered. They react poorly to petty tyrants. They always have.

If you would like to contribute to the North Carolina Poverty Research Fund, gifts can be made online or by mail. For online contributions, visit and click the "Give Now" button. Choose the "NC Poverty Research Fund" from the drop-down box. For gifts by mail, please visit the same link for instructions and mailing address.

I have no words to match the gratitude I feel for the astonishing support the Poverty Center has received from thousands across North Carolina and the nation. Students, faculty, alumni, engaged citizens, activists, social services providers, political, religious and institutional leaders and, perhaps most movingly, Tar Heels living at or below the edge of poverty have raised their voices and banners in protest. Whether pressing for research on economic justice, or more broadly for university-defining traditions of academic freedom, your words and actions have seared our hearts and, not infrequently, moistened our eyes. They are not to be forgotten.

Gene Nichol, Director, Center on Poverty, Work & Opportunity


The work of the Center has continued apace despite external distractions. In order to spark awareness, Gene Nichol has spoken on poverty and inequality to groups across the state and beyond. He gave talks at Duke University's Sanford School, the School of Law and the School of Nursing/School of Medicine. Nichol gave the keynote address in honor of Martin Luther King Day in Southport, NC. He also delivered keynotes at the UNC School of Law Public Interest Retreat, the Virginia Trial Lawyers annual convention, a statewide "Bread for the World" conference and others. With Heather Hunt, he discussed Native American poverty at the UNC American Indian seminar series as well as speaking at other venues at UNC and elsewhere.

While Center will close, law students will have the opportunity to gain exposure to, and think deeply about, issues of law, policy and poverty, thanks to a new class taught by Nichols in the fall. Called "Poverty and Public Policy in North Carolina," the seminar will examine the nature, extent and characteristics of poverty in North Carolina. The class will examine the demographics of economic hardship in the state as well as narrative and particularized instances of the burdens and barriers of poverty. Issues of economic inequality will also be explored in relationship to specific state constitutional mandates such as access to the civil justice system, equal opportunity in public education, and constitutionally assured access to public higher education. Finally, the seminar will examine, in detail, the impact of various recent North Carolina public policy decisions on low income Tar Heels. Topics will include health care and Medicaid expansion, unemployment compensation reductions, Earned Income Tax Credit elimination and other tax policy changes, cuts in childcare and other employment supports, reductions in support for North Carolina food banks, K-12 and early childhood education and voucher programs, and the like.

Event Spotlight

Thanks to all who turned out for what is likely to be our last event--our panel on law wage work. It is fitting that the panel featured some of the tremendous scholars at UNC as well as dedicated anti-poverty advocates representing a variety of North Carolina regions and constituents. Our panel was convened partially to celebrate the creation of a wonderful online tool for examining low-wage work in North Carolina. The website ( contains a plethora of information--much of which can be downloaded and shared--about this growing portion of our state economy. The panel also addressed many aspects of low-wage work: who low wage workers are and how prevalent; the characteristics of low wage work; the relationship between low wage work and policy; the impact of low wage work on individuals trying to make ends meet.

Panelists were William T. Lester (UNC Department of City and Regional Planning), Arne Kalleberg (UNC Sociology), Carol Brooke (NC Justice Center) and Raquel Lynch (Crisis Assistance Ministry in Charlotte). Patrick Conway (UNC Economics) served as moderator and led a great audience discussion.

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

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