Three in Ten Young Children Live in Poverty in North Carolina: Economic Security Slipping Across the State

September 2012

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(Raleigh, North Carolina)-The share of children in North Carolina living in households falling below the poverty line remains alarmingly high, according to new data released by the U.S. Census Bureau.

Last year, more than half a million North Carolina children (roughly 580,000) lived in poverty.  For the first time since the start of economic downturn the share of children in North Carolina who lived in households falling below the poverty line, $23,000 for a family of four, remained statistically unchanged–one in every four children (26 percent).

“Although these figures suggest a much-needed leveling of increasing child poverty rates in our state, the fact remains that far too many children in North Carolina are growing up without access to the opportunities that form the foundation of academic, economic and developmental success,” said Laila A. Bell, Director of Research and Data at Action for Children North Carolina, a leading statewide child policy research and advocacy organization.

Young children faced the greatest risk of living in poverty. Last year, 30 percent of children under the age of five in North Carolina lived in poor households, compared to less than 2 in 10 working age adults (17 percent) and 1 in 10 seniors (10 percent). The percentage of young children living in poverty increased 34 percent from pre-recession levels in 2007, outpacing the overall growth in poverty in North Carolina by more than 1.3 times.

“The experience of poverty during early childhood damages children’s developing brains and dims their future life outcomes,” said Bell. “Even as the recession placed more North Carolina children at-risk, state investments in evidence-based programs and supports to help ease the detrimental effects of poverty for vulnerable children have declined.”

The data paint a bleak picture of North Carolina households struggling to recover in the aftermath of the recession:  median household income declined for the fourth consecutive year ($43,916, down more than $4,000 when compared to pre-recession levels), the share of employed workers flat-lined (55.1 percent for workers 16 years and older) and the income gap among North Carolina households grew.

“Children living in economically secure households have the best chance to reach their full potential,” said Bell. “These new data show many North Carolina households suffering from a lack of resources to meet their children’s most basic needs.”

Nationally, 48.5 million Americans (15.9 percent) fell below the poverty line in 2011, a more than 2.2 million increase from 2010 (46.2 million Americans; 15.3 percent). This annual change represents the fourth consecutive increase in the national poverty rate since 2007-2008.