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Poverty in America: How Does North Carolina Stack Up?

Updated: Mar 19, 2020

Poverty is a world-wide issue. There are citizens in every country that experience some level of poverty. When most people think of poverty, they think of a homeless person sleeping on the streets or children in Africa who are so malnourished you can count their ribs. Although these extreme forms of poverty are the easiest to recognize, they only account for a small portion of people living in poverty, especially in the United States. This week, we’ll review the current state of poverty in the United States, and how North Carolina compares to the country’s averages.

But first, what is the poverty line?

The poverty line is how the government determines who is or isn’t living in poverty. How close someone is to these standards can determine what kind of government aid they receive, and helps non-profits like the North Carolina Community Action Association determine who needs the most help. The 2019 poverty standard was $25,750 for a family with two adults and two children. For a couple, the poverty standard is $16,910. This means a family of four who’s annual income is $24,000 is living in poverty, while a couple making $18,000 annually would be considered at risk of living in poverty. 

How many people live below the poverty line?

According to the Census Bureau, about one in every eight people in 2018 lives in poverty across the United States. That amounts to about 41.8 million individuals, or 13.1% of the population. In North Carolina alone there are 1,422,154 poor people. That is 14.1% of the state’s population. North Carolina has the 14th highest poverty rate in the nation. Across the 100 counties in North Carolina, we see that poverty ranges dramatically depending on how you look at the data. When looking at poverty as a percent of the population, Bladen county has the highest percent of their population living in poverty at 29.1% or 9,542 people; while Union county has the lowest percent at 7% or 16,361 people. But if we look at poverty by individuals, Mecklenburg county has 126,098 people living in poverty - 11.7% of the population - while Tyrrell county has the lowest number of poor people, 880, but they are 25.2% of the residents.

Where Do Poor People Live?

There are poor people in every county across the USA, however, there appears to be a larger concentration of poor people living in rural counties. Research done by Pew Trust showed that 14 of the 20 counties that saw the largest increase in poverty were Southern.  And Brookings found that rural poverty rates were at 16.4% in 2017, which was almost 4% higher than urban areas which was 12.9%. Only 6 counties in North Carolina are urban, while 80 are rural.

The Demographics of Poor People

In North Carolina, 

Photo by Irina on Unsplash

The Working Poor

The “working poor” are people who spend 27 weeks, or more working each year or are looking for work, but whose incomes fall below the poverty level. Low earnings continues to be the largest barrier between working poor and escaping poverty. “In fact, 2017 marked the 10th year that poverty has failed to fall below pre-recession levels,” an NC Policy Watch article reports. “In 2017, 14.7 percent of North Carolinians lived in poverty, living on less than $25,100 a year for a family of four. More than 1 in 5 kids in North Carolina are growing up in families that can’t give them a good start to in life because they are paid wages too low to afford the basics.”

Why it Matters

Clearly, poverty is more than a financial crisis, and it impacts millions of Americans and North Carolinians. A child who is raised in poverty often doesn’t know a different way of life, and so poverty can become a cycle that can’t be broken until external forces step in. Poverty tends to disproportionally affect vulnerable populations such as the elderly, the disabled and children. Many adults who lived well above poverty find themselves at risk or living below the poverty line once they retire or after a disability affects them. This is why organizations like ours provide much needed services to those affected. By providing simple resources like food assistance, senior services, Head Start, and weatherization, we help people in poverty increase their standard of living so that one day they can live well above the poverty line.

Want to Help?

There are many ways you can help us fight poverty in North Carolina:

  • Donate | We use your money to help run our programs, and provide training that helps organizations and individuals make their way to self-sufficiency. You can donate on our web page or support your local community action agency.

  • Volunteer | We can’t do this alone. Join us! Contact your local community action agency and check out their website for volunteer opportunities.

  • Become a Member | Did you know you can become a Community Action Member? Membership provides discounted rates to our training sessions and events, an inside look into our organization and more. Membership fees start at only $25 a year for an individual or $300 for an agency.

  • Partner with Us | We are humbled by the many non-profit and for-profit organizations that partner with us to bring services, educations and events to North Carolina. If your organization is looking for a non-profit to partner with, please consider us. Email us at We would love to hear from you!

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Very cool article, I haven't read anything like this for a long time, let alone such quality content, everything is very well written, interesting and informative. As for the homeless, we once invited a man to stay with us for a few days, he slept not in our house but in the backyard, and after his stay the bounce house vector changed a lot, namely it fell quite a bit to the left side, and after that we had to buy a new house for the kids, because I don't know what he was doing there, but after that I didn't dare let the kids in.

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