This question is prompted by this New York Times article. As usual with Times articles, they take a major national issue, in this case poverty and use one place to illustrate it, this time, Chattanooga, TN. It’s a place that’s on the urbanist radar too, as this year’s class of Next City Vanguards will be gathering there, and it’s the first Vanguard in the South. According to the Census 23% of its 171,279 are impoverished. What really stuck with me, was this quote from Chattanooga’s mayor Andy Berke:
“We don’t want the South to be a place where businesses go to find low-wage, low-education jobs. That’s a long-term problem that midsized cities in the South face.”
How does North Carolina fit into this? First of all, 1,6377,250 of 9,748,364 total North Carolinians are under the federal poverty line (assuming a household of four) and the median household income is $46,000. Our unemployment rate has dropped to 6.7% and that is inclusive of people who are still looking for work and haven’t quit. What does this mean for several major North Carolina cities. See below a comparison of per capita income and median household income.
And for the record, the percentage of people in poverty:
And the populations of these cities:
Of course this analysis of income and poverty assumes that households have no more than 3 people in them. Even with the traditional four person family, only three cities, Jacksonville, Rocky Mount and Wilson have a per capita income that meets the poverty threshold. The more people you add, plus expenses that aren’t adjusted for inflation, emergency situations such as a period of unemployment, an underwater mortgage or some other tragic or financially trying situation can create poverty-like situations. However, on paper, based on the this assessment of the 2 million people in these major cities North Carolina looks middle class, taking into account our lower cost of living, cost of living being things like the basic costs of food and housing, along with taxes and utility bills. Yet, what about the other 7 million people? Our cities may not be poor, but what about everywhere else?
In addition, the above quote could be said about my hometown and current city Greensboro. We’ve lost a number of manufacturing jobs. Yet, we have also managed to create jobs. The key is to get people above the poverty threshold and provide the stability for them to stay there. It’s also key that we provide jobs at living wages. It appears some cities are doing more than others if you go by the numbers. However, numbers, nor metaphors and proverbs can begin to tell this whole story.