Center on Poverty, Work & Opportunity Newsletter

Center on Poverty, Work & Opportunity Newsletter: Wednesday, July 9, 2014


Native Leadership Institute and Native American Poverty in NC

The Poverty Center hasn't spent much time on Native American poverty in North Carolina. In this, we’re not alone. Whether due to geographical dispersion, relatively small numbers, differences between tribes or other factors, poor Native North Carolinians are rarely on the academic or policymaking radar. Nonetheless, on a statewide basis, economic scarcity among Native Americans is widespread and virulent.

The extent and depth of Native American poverty was driven home for us by the Poverty Center’s participation in the NC Native Leadership Institute, sponsored in April by the UNC American Indian Center. As we prepared for the event, we encountered some truly shocking statistics.

NC Poverty Rate by Race and Ethnicity

NC poverty rate by race/ethnicity
Source: 2012 ACS 5-Year Estimates

NC Median Household Income by Race and Ethnicity

NC median household income by race/ethnicity
Source: 2012 ACS 5-Year Estimates

The Poverty Center couldn’t see these figures and not get involved. As a result, we’ve started a new project examining Native American poverty. We’re reaching out to community partners and, with them, will attempt to gain a better understanding of the issues underlying economic distress among Native Americans.

"Spreading the Gospel" and Strengthening Partnerships

The tireless director of the Poverty Center, Gene Nichol, speaks often and widely on poverty as the greatest challenge facing North Carolina. He recently addressed groups as varied as the AJ Fletcher Foundation, the NC Council of Churches, Teach for America, the Alabama Association of Community Action Agencies, the South Carolina Statewide Meeting of Head Start Teachers and the UNC School of Social Work. He also recorded a TED Talk on poverty, "It's Not Good to Be Poor in North Carolina."

The Center has also taken advantage of the hazy days of early summer to travel to hard-pressed North Carolina communities across the state. In each place, we’ve met with the inspiring individuals and organizations that make our work possible. A heartfelt thank you to everyone who has generously given us their time and energy as we explore the nuances of poverty and place.

Community Partner

Brian McDonald, a history teacher at Jordan High School in Durham, and a former fellow at the Poverty Center, was awarded the 2014 George Olmsted Jr. Class of 1924 Prize for Excellence in Secondary School Teaching. He was one of four teachers nationally to win the prize, which was established to recognize teachers that play an influential role in their students’ lives. Williams College seniors nominate teachers and the winners are selected by a committee of faculty, staff and students.

McDonald, who created an instructional high school poverty curriculum for the Center, was named the Claes Nobel Educator of the Year in 2013, and was chosen by students at Jordan as the Most Inspirational Teacher in 2007, 2011 and 2012. He is also the author of “Not the End, but the Beginning: The Impact of Race and Class on the History of Jordan High School, 1963-1988,” which chronicles the first 25 years of Jordan High School’s history. Congratulations on the recognition, Brian!

Analysis and Commentary

Local Studies of Poverty in NC

One of the Center’s major research efforts this summer is to study and document poverty as it manifests in communities across the state. Our primary focus right now is on the chronic urban poverty that persists in the shadows of some of North Carolina’s most dynamic metropolitan areas. Guided by a recent study that asserts that more people face more deprivation in more neighborhoods in urban environments than in rural ones, we strive to call attention to the pockets of poverty that are often masked by regional affluence.

Much of our current focus is on Charlotte. Rocked by the recession, the Queen City has appeared in a number of studies (available from the Urban Institute, Harvard and UC-Berkeley, and the UNC Center for Urban and Regional Studies) that show many residents are locked at the economic bottom, despite the recovery.

According to research the Center conducted last summer, Charlotte contains 26 distressed census tracts (meaning tracts that were characterized by higher poverty and unemployment rates, and lower median household incomes, than the state average). These findings galvanized the head of the Mecklenburg County Commission to call for the formation of a poverty task force. They also persuaded us that Charlotte has a story to tell that goes beyond its identity as a thriving business center.

The Poverty Center is engaged with other communities too, including Durham, Salisbury and coastal communities in Currituck and Dare counties. We will publish a series of reports on these and other places in the coming months. Stay tuned to the website or the next newsletter (or Facebook or Twitter) for more information!

Student Research at the Center

Students are a major part of our activities year-round, but their presence really kicks into high gear during the summer. Not only do they contribute to our projects and bolster our reach, they generate an energizing buzz that's a joy to be around.

Poverty center summer students 2014
L to R: Rory Fleming, Gene Nichol (director), Hallie Westlund, John T. Gibson, Xuan Li, Patrick Vanderjeugdt, Bianca Kegler, Joe Polich (research fellow), Tim Longest (absent: Alicia Mills, Caroline Barrineau)

This summer, students are deeply involved in the Center's urban poverty and foreclosure initiatives. Check out the Center's blog to read about their work--and their reflections on it.

We wish we could describe them all, but to keep things short, we asked them to tell us one thing about their experience so far with the Poverty Center that has surprised them. Some of their responses are below.

Bianca Kegler, research assistant, 2L, UNC School of Law

“Surprisingly, my experience thus far at the Poverty Center has challenged me to take a greater interest in looking beyond statistics to fully understand poverty issues in North Carolina.”

Hallie Westlund, Summer Internship Scholarship, junior, College of William and Mary

"Before starting my internship at the Poverty Center I was nervous/intimidated about being the only undergrad student in a room full of law students and lawyers. I was happily surprised by how inclusive the Poverty Center and the other interns are."

John T. Gibson, research assistant, 2L, UNC School of Law

"As a new resident of the state, I've been struck by how immensely the nation's waning textile industry has affected North Carolina workers and their families, leading to soaring poverty rates in some communities. Kids grew up being told that a high school education (or less) would be enough for a long and respectable career in textiles--unfortunately, these jobs no longer exist."

Alicia Mills, Z. Smith Reynolds Nonprofit Internship Program Intern, senior, UNC-Wilmington

"Although there are a significant number of people living in poverty, they do not have the power to make legislative changes. The research that the Poverty Center is doing is important because it allows a voice for those who cannot speak out for themselves."

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