Child Poverty in North Carolina: Investing in What Works

January 2019

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by Whitney Tucker

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This is the third in a three-part series on understanding Child Poverty in North Carolina.
Part I: The Scope of the Problem.
Part II: Economic Mobility.

Download a printer-friendly pdf version of this fact sheet here.

Nearly 1 million children in North Carolina live in poor or low-income homes.[1] The state is ranked among the lowest in the nation for the ability of a child from the bottom 20% of the income bracket to reach the top 20% in adulthood. [2] Family financial security is one of the strongest determinants of children’s success in life. Fortunately, there is a great deal of evidence about policies and practices that can move families from poverty to economic opportunity. Promoting what works to break the cycle of family poverty is critical to expanding opportunity for every child in North Carolina.

The Drivers of Economic Mobility

Economic mobility is the ability for a child born into one income level to move to another. Economic mobility is associated with five primary characteristics of families and communities:

  • Racial de-segregation;
  • A small income gap between the rich and the poor;
  • High-quality schools;
  • A high proportion of two-parent households; and
  • Social capital, which is indicated by low crime rates and high civic engagement. [3]

These characteristics of places with high economic mobility provide a roadmap for policy-makers, as both historical and current public policies have created barriers to families getting ahead.

Transportation, Education, and Integration are Critical and Interconnected

Policy interventions to increase economic mobility can fall into three types of strategies: First, ending discriminatory practices that promote segregation. Segregation by race and income persists statewide, bolstered by a legacy of racial discrimination in housing, education, and tax policy in North Carolina. [4] Children of color represent 45% of all children in North Carolina, but 65% of children in poverty. [5] Policy changes that promote racial and economic integration are central to moving children out of poverty, because they increase access to quality education, higher wage jobs, and invaluable social networks.

Second, investing in under-resourced schools. Research has shown that areas that invest in quality teachers and small student-teacher ratios in public schools reap benefits in student economic mobility. [6] Policy changes that allow students equal access to high quality education – regardless of income – have the potential to move generations of children from poverty to opportunity.

Finally, ensuring that residents in under-resourced neighborhoods are not limited exclusively to the opportunities available in their area. Upward economic mobility is more common in denser geographic areas – these places have shorter commutes and less urban sprawl. [7] Reliable and affordable public transportation is integral in connecting lower-income neighborhoods with areas of higher income and greater opportunity.

Whitney Tucker is the Research Director at NC Child.

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