Center on Poverty, Work & Opportunity Newsletter

Center on Poverty, Work & Opportunity Newsletter: Thursday, July 2, 2015

From the Director

I've been blessed with a long and varied academic career. But none of my efforts has approached the extraordinary honor of working, side by side for the past seven years, with North Carolina low-income communities and the dedicated students, professors, advocates and providers who seek to serve them. Together, we have sought to focus a meaningful light on the challenges of poverty and to push back against policies that foster economic injustice. Those efforts, as you know, have led the UNC Board of Governors to close the Poverty Center. But poverty is the enemy in North Carolina. Not a tiny, privately-funded Poverty Center. Heather Hunt and I have no words to match the gratitude we feel for the astonishing support the Poverty Center has received, in recent months, from thousands across North Carolina and the nation.

As the Poverty Center closes, the Law School now launches the North Carolina Poverty Research Fund. Thanks to the generosity of North Carolina foundations, and engaged and committed citizens from across the country, the new Fund will allow us to hire student, faculty and post-doctorate scholars to assist us in probing the causes of, and solutions to, economic injustice – and to publish, extensively, the fruits of our research. Donors have indicated repeatedly that they are unwilling to see the crucial work of the Poverty Center driven from the halls of the university. The Fund will assure that it continues, and that it continues in Chapel Hill. Censorship has poor track record. It won't prevail here either.

Poverty is North Carolina's greatest challenge. In one of the most economically vibrant states of the richest nation on earth, 18 percent of us live in wrenching poverty. Twenty-five percent of our kids. Forty percent of our children of color. We have one of the country's fastest rising poverty rates. A decade ago, North Carolina had the 26th highest rate among the states. Now we're tenth, speeding past the competition. Greensboro, the federal government tells us, is the hungriest city in America. Charlotte has the nation's worst economic mobility. Over the last decade, North Carolina experienced the country's steepest rise in concentrated poverty. Poverty, amidst plenty, stains the life of this storied commonwealth. Even if our leaders choose to ignore it.

It was my high honor, last week, to speak at the funeral of William B. Aycock – the law school's greatest teacher and the University of North Carolina's greatest chancellor. His bold and courageous opposition to the Speaker Ban did much to define the meaning of this university. We stand on the shoulders of giants. A half century ago, in opposing the ban, Aycock said that if UNC bowed to external political pressures in its academic efforts, "it would forfeit its claim to be a university." He noted: "our legislators do not look with favor on persons who express views different than their own." But no public official can be "afforded such immunity. The right to think as one wills and to speak as one thinks are requisite to a free society. They are indispensable to education."

I am immensely grateful for the courage and generosity of your support and friendship. Together, we will continue our efforts to shine a light on the scourge of poverty in the Tar Heel state.

Gene Nichol
Boyd Tinsley Distinguished Professor
University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill

Center Happenings

Welcome to the final Poverty Center newsletter. This is a bittersweet moment as the Center comes to a close on June 30. Fortunately, thanks to foundation support and private gifts, the Center's work will continue under the auspices of the North Carolina Poverty Research Fund.

In reviewing old files, I was struck by the number of prominent scholars, policymakers, commentators and idea generators the Center has brought to the UNC campus. Jacob Hacker. William Julius Wilson. Jason DeParle. Katherine Boo. Xavier de Sousa Briggs. Robert Kuttner. Kathryn Edin. Jared Bernstein. Michael Sherraden. Lawrence Mishel. Elizabeth Warren. Jack Kemp. Peter Edelman. Isabel Sawhill. Katherine Newman. And many, many others. It's a veritable who's who of policy and poverty wonkdom.

But the big names are a small part of the picture. We thought it was appropriate in these waning moments to take some time to celebrate the Center's accomplishments and to recognize our friends. Some highlights include:

  • Conferences, panels and presentations on virtually every facet of poverty: housing, education, health and disability, work and workers' rights, globalization, campaign finance, wealth inequality and the shrinking middle class; access to justice, and so much more.  
    Not all events were traditional academic presentations. The center hosted movies, such as the wonderful Change Comes Knocking: The Story of the NC Fund, and theatrical productions like Mike Wiley's fabulous Blood Done Sign My Name and The Parchman Hour. And the Center participated in the NC Poverty Tour, which gave tour participants a glimpse into the reality of what it means to live on a financial razor's edge (and sometimes to fall off it) for North Carolinians from Elizabeth City to Hendersonville.
  • Sponsored research at UNC-Chapel Hill, including an innovative policy brief series, faculty research on land loss and hunger, and student projects ranging from the reconstruction of New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina to micro-lending to low wage work.
  • A range of publications, including a book (Ending Poverty in America); reports on diverse topics such as poverty and racial disparities in wealth in NC, foreclosure patterns in Durham, and the economic benefits of legal representation for low income people; conference proceedings and law journal publications; and many op-ed pieces in local and state press, including the Seeing the Invisible series, which ran in monthly installments in the News and Observer for a year.
  • Student involvement and mentorship. Students worked with the Center as research assistants, interns and externs. The Center advised student organizations, co-hosted campus events and student working groups, supervised individual student research projects, and generally served as a resource and clearinghouse for undergraduates and graduate students across campus.

We're constantly inspired by our colleagues and partners. Not only do they contribute to the well-being of individuals and communities, they make us a better North Carolina. The students with whom we've crossed paths are immensely talented, energetic, committed and idealistic. They never fail to amaze. Finally, much gratitude in particular to our remarkable board for their guidance and steadfast support.

The Fund's website will have the same address as the Center's: Please check in from time to time to follow our work or like us on Facebook.

If you would like to support the Fund, you can make a donation by going online to Or you can mail a check (with the NC Poverty Research Fund designated in the memo line) to:

UNC School of Law
Office of Advancement
Campus Box #3382
Chapel Hill, NC 27599-3382

Of course we haven't slowed down just because of this transition. Much of our current activity revolves around the NC Economic Distress project funded by the Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation. Through data analysis, interviews, focus groups and other methods, we're digging into the specifics of poverty in communities across the state. We have been working in Charlotte for some time and are now broadening our effort to include Durham, Greensboro, Goldsboro and Asheville, among others. We are examining the scourges of hunger and child poverty in North Carolina as well as looking into foreclosures in Elizabeth City, reviewing proposed state legislation affecting consumer financial transactions and mapping disparities in home loan originations.

Students are vital to our work and are deeply engaged in all our projects. Front row, left to right are research assistants Olivia Taylor, Kenneth Strickland, Aimee Nwabuike, Kirsten Leloudis and Poverty Center research fellow, Allison De Marco. Back row, left to right are Center director Gene Nichol, research assistant Josh Martinkovic, and assistant director, Heather Hunt. Not shown are research assistants Troy Heisman, William Norrell, Maxwell Gregson and Rick Ingram, and intern, Myra Waheed.

Summer 2015 Research Assistants

Thank you for taking interest in, and being a part of, the Center. So long for now! We hope you join us in this new chapter.

For more information about the Poverty Center or the NC Poverty Research Fund, please email Heather Hunt or call 919.445.0182.

Forward This E-Mail to a Friend