Poverty Stats Going In Wrong Direction
G eorge Cleveland, Republican state representative from Onslow County, made headlines last March when he declared, during a legislative hearing: "We have nobody in the state of North Carolina living in extreme poverty."
Anyone disagreeing, Cleveland declared, was just being led astray by "a government agency perpetuating a poverty class." All that came as quite a surprise, no doubt, to the hundreds of thousands of North Carolinians who were, indeed, living in poverty. The story even provided late-night TV comics with material at the national level.
We imagine that Cleveland has since had occasion to regret his words. We hope he and others will not seek similar reasons to explain away the latest predictions from economists, who say they expect that poverty levels here and elsewhere are heading for their highest levels since 1965, when President Lyndon Johnson's war on poverty first kicked in.
It's Getting Worse
Cleveland may have been thinking that there was no longer any excuse for anyone to remain grindingly poor in this day when there are so many well-intentioned programs out there to help them. There might possibly have been an element of truth to that at one point. But we are living at a time when a great many such programs have been left in tatters because of our dire current economic straits.
Last year, some 47 million Americans - nearly one in six - were officially classified as living in poverty. Whether that qualifies as "extreme" poverty or not, it is still a national disgrace.
Now comes a new report from the Annie E. Casey Foundation, which casts the picture in even starker terms - especially for the nation's children, most of whom have little or no reason to be aware of whatever programs may still exist to help them.
In the decade between 2000 and 2010, the study found, poverty among the young jumped by nearly one-third, hitting 22 percent. And experts expect that this number, already far ahead of the 15.1 percent overall poverty rate, has soared even higher in the past couple of years.
Can't Sweep It Under the Rug
It should come as no big surprise - except perhaps to Rep. Cleveland - that the numbers for North Carolina are even more discouraging than the national ones. Our overall poverty rate for 2010 was 17.8 percent. And the rate for children was a mind-boggling 25 percent, meaning that one in every four North Carolina children grows up in an environment of deprivation. The rest of us should not be able to sleep well knowing that.
Such statistics can be especially hard to grasp for someone going about his daily life in a county such as Moore, where the image - and often the reality of daily life - is one of "a lot of rich people playing golf," as a vice president of AAA of the Carolinas famously commented to a Pilot reporter on the subject of why gasoline prices tend to be higher here.
But one doesn't have to go very far off the beaten cart path, even here, to find alarming levels of "hidden poverty." The problem is even more severe in other parts of the state, and it's only getting worse.
This may not be the kind of truth that many of those now in charge of our state legislature like to hear, but it's not going away.
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