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September 10, 2014

Several North Carolina metropolitan areas are among those with the fastest growing poverty rates in the nation, according to a recent research study. Researchers and leaders from across the Triangle and Triad gathered at the Greensboro Poverty Summit to discuss the particular challenges facing the region and how to combat poverty and economic insecurity in North Carolina. Among them were Todd Owen, Associate Director of the Center for Urban & Regional Studies (CURS), and William High of the Department of City & Regional Planning at The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. High and Owen presented findings from their report North Carolina’s Distressed Urban Tracts: A View of the State’s Economically Disadvantaged Communities, which was published earlier this year.

High discussed poverty rates, unemployment rates, and per capita income indicators at the U.S. Census tract level in North Carolina, which revealed pockets of extreme distress in the state’s urban areas. Despite the prosperity of their surrounding communities, High said these urban tracts are even more distressed than their counterparts in rural counties.

High highlighted significant racial disparities when it comes to who lives in distressed tracts, both urban and rural. While African-Americans account for only 21 percent of North Carolina’s total population, they represent almost 61 percent of the population of urban distressed tracts and more than 45 percent in rural distressed tracts. High noted that while urban areas generally have higher rates of poverty than rural areas, the opposite is true among the elderly.

Additionally, High noted that there are some surprising geographic disparities between distressed urban tracts. For instance, Mecklenburg County has 20 distressed urban tracts, but Wake County only has four. The sources of this gap are not clear.

Todd Owen then took the floor and explained that in addition to the urban tracts analysis, CURS has created The State of North Carolina Cities Data Portal, a long-term initiative developed to inform citizens and policymakers about the changes occurring in the 45 largest cities in North Carolina.

Owen pulled out numbers from the data portal focusing specifically on Greensboro. According to the report, Greensboro performed comparably to the state in 2012 for many of the indicators examined. Greensboro’s poverty rate and the percentage of households burdened by housing costs were higher than the statewide average. However, Greensboro has a well-educated adult population with higher college graduate rates and lower percentages of adults without a high school education than the state and the nation. This relatively well-educated and young population provides Greensboro with important building blocks to attract investment and support economic development.

Greensboro Poverty table

Click to watch the entire proceedings of the Summit. William High and Todd Owen’s presentation begins at 1:03:55.

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