Exploring Economic Distress in N.C.

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In summer 2013, we undertook demographic and narrative research on the issue of urban poverty in North Carolina, focusing specifically on Mecklenburg and Durham counties. In 2014, we received a grant from the Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation to continue, deepen and extend this research to other NC communities. We will spend the next couple of years talking to people and studying places across the state.


We are excited to announce the publication of our Charlotte report, "Economic Hardship, Racialized Concentrated Poverty, and the Challenges of Low-Wage Work."

Our choice of Charlotte may surprise, given its reputation as a thriving metropolitan area. However, racial and economic divides show that Charlotte’s enviable growth is not widely shared. Our dive into demographic data confirms both the Queen City’s strengths and its challenges. It generates tremendous prosperity. But its tangled confluence of poverty, racial disparity, segregation in housing and education, neighborhood disadvantage, and labor market segmentation relegates many residents to the sidelines. If unchecked, such trends will impair Charlotte’s prospects and increasingly wound the dignity and opportunity of large numbers of the city’s residents.

The racial and economic divides that cleave Charlotte were undeniably clear in the aftermath of the police shooting death of Keith Scott. Many in regional and national press turned to our report to gain insight into events in Charlotte. These included the NY Times, CNN Money, the LA Times, CBS News, the Christian Science Monitor, Mashable, The Atlantic, the Charlotte Observer, the Wall Street Journal and UNC's own Daily Tar Heel.

More broadly, Gene Nichol spoke at an event organized by Black Lives Matter Charlotte and has commented widely on Charlotte in numerous venues:

Mecklenburg County (click on map for more info)

Source: 2015 ACS 5-Year Estimates

Wilkes County

Located in western North Carolina, at the foot of the Blue Ridge Mountains, Wilkes is a large, rural county. Its population of just under 70,000 is dispersed throughout the county in small towns and hamlets. Once the headquarters of Lowe's and home to numerous manufacturers, Wilkes in recent years has struggled. Between 2000 and 2014, it suffered the second largest drop in median household income in the nation, mostly due to job loss.

PBS NewsHour recently interviewed poor residents of Wilkes on the invisibility of poverty in national politics. We're doing some work in Wilkes and Gene Nichol is also quoted.

Wilkes County

Source: 2015 ACS 5-Year Estimates

Wayne County

Like Wilkes County, Wayne and its county seat, Goldsboro, are grappling with long- and short-term economic slippage. According to an analysis by the Pew Research Center, between 2000 and 2014, the percentage of middle income households in Goldsboro shrank more than almost anywhere else in the country (falling from 60% to 48%). At the same time, the share of adults in lower income households increased from 27% to 41%. A former transportation and manufacturing hub, Goldsboro is now best known for the Seymour Johnson Air Force Base.

Wayne County

Source: 2015 ACS 5-Year Estimates


Durham County

Source: 2015 ACS 5-Year Estimates

Greensboro/High point

Guilford County

Source: 2015 ACS 5-Year Estimates


Interactive Map of Poverty in Forsyth County

Source: 2015 ACS 5-Year Estimates
UNC School of Law | Van Hecke-Wettach Hall | 160 Ridge Road, CB #3380 | Chapel Hill, NC 27599-3380 | 919.962.5106

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