Census Report: Off-Campus Students Inflate Local Poverty Rates

A new report from the U.S. Census Bureau sheds light on a question many local leaders have been asking for a long time- how do college students affect town and county poverty rates?

Rebecca Tippett is the Director of Carolina Demography at UNC’s Carolina Population Center. She says off-campus students significantly inflate local poverty rates.

“In Chapel Hill the poverty rate cuts in half when you exclude them from the population, because the poverty rate among those students is so high, largely just because they’re in school full-time and might not need to be working,” says Tippett.

When off-campus students are not counted, Chapel Hill’s poverty rate falls from 23.7 percent to 11.5 percent. At the county level, the rate drops from 18.8 percent to 14 percent.

The report used data from the 2009-2011 American Community Survey. It examined three groups of students, those living in dorms, those living with family members, and those living off-campus.

Students living in dorms, who account for 11 percent of the total student population nationwide, are never counted in the poverty rate.

Students living with family members account for 63 percent of the total. They are always included in poverty measures, as are the 25 percent of students living off-campus.

The report shows excluding the off-campus population has little impact on state poverty rates, but can make a big difference at the local level.

When it comes to estimating the need for social support services, government officials usually assume students are only temporarily living below the poverty line while they are in school full-time.

But Tippett says that’s not always the case. She warns against excluding the student population from discussions of poverty all together.

“I do have some concerns about wanting to remove students from the impoverished population entirely,” says Tippett. “I think it many cases, particularly when you’re having conversations about the increasing challenge of student debt and the current job market, we do want to keep in mind that just because people are in school they don’t all have parental support. They might be trying to work full time and can’t make it. I think there are important nuances to this to keep in mind.”

Tippett says this is an area where local governments should coordinate with schools and institutions to make sure student needs are met.

“Just because people are students, doesn’t mean they don’t have needs that are not being met by their work and loan packages,” says Tippett. “I think this is a very tricky population and what it points to is the need to coordinate local government and school interaction to address this, to better understand what the student population is; who they are; what their needs are; how that might impact and interplay with the local government.”

You can read the full report here.


UNC to Continue Work on Poverty

Many UNC faculty members, and citizen across the state, have expressed concern recently with the decision from the Board of Governors to close three centers across the UNC System. UNC Faculty Chair Doctor Bruce Cairns tells WCHL’s Blake Hodge that the university’s work on poverty will continue despite the decision to close the Center on Poverty, Work, and Opportunity at UNC.


Carrboro High Student Lobbies D.C. For Global Change

A Carrboro High School student went to Washington last week to press for action on issues of poverty, hunger and climate change.

“It was really such an amazing experience,” says fifteen-year-old Amanda Padden. She was one of 30 students traveling with the ONE campaign. “We just went and got to talk to American leaders about poverty and hunger and disease and give our thoughts about what the next 15 years should look like.”

ONE Campaign organizers say if concerted actions are taken to increase spending on public services and to reduce inequality, extreme poverty could be reduced from over a billion people today to around 360 million in 2030.

That translates to a drop from 18 percent down to 4 percent of the projected world population.

More than 1,000 organizations in 130 countries have teamed up in this effort, dubbed Action 2015. Participants aim to convince world leaders to take measurable steps to fight poverty and climate change at both the upcoming UN Special Summit on Sustainable Development in September and the Paris Climate talks in December.

Students around the world are holding similar meetings with leaders in India, Nigeria, the United Kingdom, Kenya, Uganda, and Norway as part of the outreach effort.

Padden says the enthusiasm of one Carrboro High teacher helped ignite her passion for global health issues.

“I have a teacher who has just really worked to get us involved in global health and get us to learn about the different problems around the world and it just sparked my interest. He helped us to get involved with the ONE Campaign.”

She’d like to see more students her age taking an interest in global health.

“I think just getting people to learn about the world and to look a little farther outside of North Carolina, outside of the United States and see what the problems are would really be a huge help,” says Padden.

You can find out more about the ONE Campaign here.


Common Themes Develop Among 2015 Priorities

Flipping the calendar to a new year can cause reflection over what happened over the previous 12 months. It can provide a clean slate for starting new. And it can present new challenges.

Managing growth and fighting poverty are two ideas that would seem to counter each other. But, throughout our community, this juxtaposed theme continues to emerge. The message from many community leaders is that we must continue to strive for growth, while lending a helping hand to those in need.

In that vein, Chapel Hill Mayor Mark Kleinschmidt says he is excited about the two zones in Orange County chosen by the Family Success Alliance, aimed at helping children from low-income families continue on to higher levels of education.

Kleinschmidt adds that Chapel Hill, specifically, has to focus on the “Design 2020” development project and work toward a public transit solution.

“We’re going to be exploring some new ways of financing bus purchases,” he says. “The earmarks that David Price, our congressman, used to bring to us to buy new buses are gone, and we have to find new ways to do that.”

Meanwhile, in neighboring Carrboro, Mayor Lydia Lavelle says they will be focusing on bringing more projects to the town.

“As the economy continues to do a little better, we’re hoping to see some more projects come forward over the next year,” she says, “including projects like the library.”

Kristen Smith, with the Chapel Hill-Carrboro Chamber of Commerce, says that she believes there will be a reenergized spirit to help those that are less fortunate.

“I think some people are renewing their focus on poverty,” she says, with the goal of finding “how we can come together and collaborate around that.”

Smith cites the UNC Global Research Institute, whose focus will be on “Feeding a Hungry World” for the 2015 – 2016 and 2016 – 2017 academic years.

Mayor Tom Stevens says the Town of Hillsborough will be focusing on ways to systematically build citizen engagement and leadership throughout the community. He adds that promoting tourism will be a key, along with managing growth.

“We’re going to have two new neighborhoods,” he says, “so we’re going to have a lot of new folks in town.”

Stevens adds that he believes Hillsborough can welcome new residents and hold on to its “small-town character.”

Riding the tourism wave, Laurie Paolicelli, with the Orange County Visitors’ Bureau, says that they are working to continue bringing in higher numbers of visitors to the area.

“We’re trying to work with our partners to figure out: Do we stay open a little later? Do we offer night lighting, more way-finding, more marketing of the area?” she says. “We have a lot of opportunity and a lot of smart leaders.”

Paiolicelli adds that it will be important to continue bringing in visitors to fill hotels that are targeting our community.


Zones Chosen By FSA Council To Create Pipeline to Success for Children

The Family Success Alliance Council has chosen two of the six geographic zones to enact a pilot program with the goal of creating a pipeline of success for children living in poverty.

Dr. Michael Steiner, with UNC Health Care, announced the selection following a committee vote.

“Congratulations to Zone 4 and Zone 6, and the Family Success Alliance will look forward to continue working with you and starting the next steps of the process.”

Zone 4 represents central Orange County, specifically between I-40 and I-85. Zone 6 covers a densely populated area from downtown Chapel Hill to Highway 54.

Representatives from the six zones that were being considered for the pilot program gave their pitch to the council during a special meeting, on Tuesday evening.

Delores Bailey, from the non-profit EmPowerment, represented Zone 6. In her pitch to the council, she focused on a need of young children in the community.

“There’s been a major setback in the Head Start program,” she says. “And that alone has been responsible for the groundwork and young people growing. If we’re missing that Head Start piece, we’ve got to have resources that wrap around what we’re missing from there.”

Zone four was campaigned for by Aviva Scully from Stanback Middle School and New Hope Elementary’s Rosemary Deane.

Deane says that during some community events they were able to break down barriers and establish a cumulative goal for the area.

“During our forum, we had families from all over come together. You could see a common vision of what they want for our community,” she recalled.

They are looking to calm some of those concerns with the help of pilot program from the Family Success Alliance Council.

One common theme developed throughout the meeting. No matter which zones were ultimately selected, the ball was rolling and each zone would have the support of the zones that were not chosen.

As for those zones that were not selected, Orange County Health Department Director Dr. Colleen Bridger cautioned that this was a pilot program, so there was no firm timeline for involving the other zones. But she made clear the intention was to do so.

“We need to try it and see how it goes. And then as soon as we can, we want every single zone to be involved in this.”

Doctor Bridger adds that the zones that were not selected will be encouraged to continue their work, and the council will be able to provide some guidance following their next meeting in February.

Meanwhile, the implementation of the pilot program will immediately go into action in zones four and six. Feedback from the success of these programs will be documented and passed along to other areas throughout the community to encourage similar efforts.


OC Health Department Wants To Tackle Growing Poverty

As the number of Orange County families and children living in poverty continues to grow, officials with the Health Department are looking to other communities for strategies to help those in need.

The number of people living in poverty grew more in North Carolina than anywhere else in the nation, according to US Census Data. The state saw a 17.9 percent increase in its poverty rate between 2006 and 2010.

Despite the perception that Orange County is an affluent area, Meredith Stewart, planning manager for the Board of Health, says more and more local families are struggling too.

“About one in three of our kids in Orange County schools, so that’s both districts, are on free- or reduced-lunch,” Stewart says. “About one in four of our kids in Orange County are on Medicaid. We do have families struggling to get by, as evidence by those numbers.”

The area’s high cost of living is also a challenge for families. In Orange County, a household would need the income from 2.2 full-time minimum wage jobs to be able to afford the median rent on a two-bedroom apartment.

Stewart says officials are just beginning to plan how to tackle the multi-faceted problem of poverty.

“I think a conversation is beginning around the issues that are happening in Orange County and how we can address them from many different angles,” Stewart says. “So, this isn’t something that one person or one group can work on, we all have to come together to think about and talk about our families and issues like housing, food, education, and childcare. All of these issues go together.”

As part of that conversation, local leaders are looking to other communities that have launched successful intervention programs.

“We’ll have the privilege of having Dr. Betina Jean-Louis from the Harlem Children’s Zone, who will be joining us this Friday starting at 8:00 a.m. at the Friday Center in Chapel Hill, to talk about the Harlem Children’s Zone and the work that they have done to improve the pipeline, as they call it, from cradle to career or college for children and how that was really a community effort that started with a community conversation that we’re starting to have here in Orange County.”

Stewart and others hope that programs such as The Harlem Children’s Zone and the East Durham Children’s Initiative could provide a model for lowering child poverty rates in Orange County.

Friday’s meeting is open to the public.

For more information, click here.


Orange County’s Biggest Hidden Issue: Part II

A couple months ago, I asked: “What is Orange County’s biggest hidden issue?” What is the biggest issue in Orange County that ISN’T being talked about, in any way, in any news outlet?

There are a lot, obviously. Even in a county as per-capita prosperous as this one, there’s bound to be room for improvement in numerous areas—and as for “not being talked about,” well, I’ve already used this space to drone on about the limited resources available to modern-day media. Enough with that.

But of all the un-discussed issues in Orange County, what’s the biggest? What’s the most pressing?

Many of you responded.

Is it the old-boy network? Twitter user @W0CG0 wrote: “Quite simply, (it’s) the attempt by older residents to limit activities and access of those under the age of 50.”

Is it overpriced housing? “The subtle effect of the anti-development, anti-growth zealots is to keep housing prices inflated due to lack of supply. A good example is the Estes Road plan. People want less development to keep up home prices. The road needs to be widened.”

Or—related—is it the lack of workforce housing? “We can build a homeless shelter, but god forbid we build apartments or town homes for police, teachers & firefighters.”

(That’s all @W0CG0, by the way.)

Mark Marcoplos suggested home rule, or rather the lack thereof — the extent to which state law restrains local governments from doing much of anything without permission from the General Assembly. “I consider this to be the biggest obstacle to progressive policy that we face,” he wrote. This has come up recently in a variety of issues — most notably Chapel Hill’s attempt to ban cell phone use while driving or to update its towing ordinance — but Marcoplos said it’s more wide-ranging than you think. “It’s an unnecessary shackling of local governance.”

And another responder (who chose to remain anonymous) pointed to “administrative cover-ups (and) misappropriations in Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools,” as well as an unequal distribution of resources from one school to another — both of which, the responder says, contribute to “poor working conditions (and) teacher dissatisfaction.”

But easily the most common responses revolved around the prevalence of poverty in Orange County — notwithstanding our status as North Carolina’s wealthiest.

“Poverty and children going hungry,” wrote Rachel Hawkins. “No excuse for it.”

Vicki Vars Boyer agreed: “Too many of our kids are on free/reduced lunch” — another stat that’s unequally distributed from school to school, incidentally — “and in need of backpacks of food to take home so they can get through the weekend.”

And it’s not just backpacks. “At Chapel Hill High this week they are running a granola bar drive,” wrote Kathy Kaufman (in November). “(T)he school social worker needs a ready supply to give to kids who don’t have lunch money and may not have had breakfast either. There are other ways hungry kids are quietly helped in the school as well.”

Ricky Spero took the issue beyond the schools. “With the recent drop in SNAP benefits, I’m curious to learn where we have food security issues in our community,” he wrote. “As a national issue, it’s a bit overwhelming to think about how our family could help, but as a local issue, it’s an area where we could pitch in.”

And George Cianciolo added that solving the problem would require more than just dealing with immediate food security issues. “As in many other areas of the country, the disparity in income levels continues to widen here with no easy solutions in sight,” he said, so “(m)ore jobs paying living wages are desperately needed.”

Poverty is something we’ve discussed on WCHL and on Chapelboro.com, but there are many facets of the issue that have gone unexamined — and even as it gets reported, that old notion still lingers that poverty’s not really an issue here.

So as promised, I’ll be writing more about poverty in the months to come. Thanks to everyone for their contributions.


Orange County Wealthy On Average, But Poverty Still Lingers

Aaron Nelson and Chamber board chair Paige Zinn. Photo by Donn Young, courtesy of the Orange County Visitors Bureau.

CHAPEL HILL – Year after year, Orange County consistently ranks as the wealthiest in the state of North Carolina—but poverty, even here, continues to be a nagging and serious issue.

“There’s a big disparity between wealth, (and) there continues to be growth in childhood poverty,” said Chapel Hill-Carrboro Chamber of Commerce president Aaron Nelson at his annual State of the Community presentation this week. “That is (a statistic) that we need to pay close attention to.”

Orange County ranks first in the state with a per capita income of $48,683 in 2011, well above the state average of $36,000. But in spite of that, our poverty rate is also well above the state average: in 2011, 16.9 percent of Orange County residents were living below the poverty line, compared to 16.1 percent of all North Carolinians (and 14.3 percent of all Americans). The percentage is even higher in Chapel Hill alone, where 22.1 percent of residents lived below the poverty line in 2011.

“Some folks have often discounted that–(because they think) that’s just the student population…but our poverty level is high,” Nelson says. “We ought not to discount it simply because it includes students.”

For the first time, researchers this year were able to distinguish between students and non-students when analyzing wealth and poverty in the area. Students do account for much of the poverty rate in Chapel Hill—but that poverty rate is still elevated even when they’re taken out of the equation. About ten percent of Chapel Hill’s non-student population lives below the poverty line—a poverty rate that’s less than the state average, but still more than twice as high as nearby communities like Apex and Cary.

And the poverty rate increases when the focus is narrowed to children. “That is on the rise,” says Nelson, “and in a pretty serious way.”

The key increase is in the percentage of “economically disadvantaged” children, which is to say children who qualify for free and reduced lunch. 26.5 percent of Chapel Hill-Carrboro City School students and 41.6 percent of Orange County School students qualified for free and reduced lunch in 2011-12—the highest percentage in both districts since at least 2006, when the Chamber began collecting data.

And the high level of need in Orange County is at odds with the common perception of Chapel Hill as a wealthy community—a disconnect that actually makes it harder for governmental and non-governmental organizations to address the real need that exists.

“(It’s called) ‘Chapel Hill Syndrome,'” Nelson says. “Donors get this: it’s a belief that we don’t need anything, Orange County doesn’t need anything–we have the highest per capita income, the University’s there, the hospital’s there, your economy’s bulletproof–but the reality is that some of us feel that way and forget to reinvest and take a look under the rocks on what’s going on in our community with respect to poverty, particularly children in poverty.”

Nelson delivered his State of the Community report on Tuesday at the Friday Center. You can see the full presentation at this link.


Wealth Disparity In Chapel Hill: A Widening Gap

CHAPEL HILL – Orange County is one of the wealthiest counties in the state—but when affluence is prevalent in an area, poverty and those affected by it can be pushed aside.
Jamie Rohe is the Homeless Program Coordinator for the Orange County Partnership to End Homelessness.

“The housing situation has gotten worse because of the recession, and also because of a lack of funding from the state and federal level. A lot of public housing has been privatized over the years. We’ve hundreds of thousands of public housing over the last several decades,” Rohe said.

Rohe joined other panelists on the Inconvenient Truths discussion for WCHL’s community Forum.

She says there have been enormous cuts in federal funding for affordable housing. Between 1978 and 1983, the Department of Housing and Urban Development experienced a 70 percent drop in their budget.

Orange County commissioner Mark Dorosin the state has a wealth classification system for its counties, made up by three tiers. He says there’s certain funding that counties have access to if it’s a Tier One or Tier Two. Orange County is Tier Three—the wealthiest classification.

“So in some ways if you’re a low-wealth person, you have better access to getting resources if you’re not in a wealthy county. That is the disparities make it harder to access resources,” Dorosin said.

He says periodically, the community is confronted with the wealth disparity. He cited the challenges in provided services and reparations to the Roger Road Community, and Carrboro’s recent history with an anti-lingering ordinance that he says has a discriminatory impact on Latinos.

Dorosin believes Carrboro town leaders missed an opportunity when the housing complex Collins Crossing—which was predominately low-income housing at that time— was for sale. He says it could have been purchased and kept those units as an option for low-income families.

“The challenge is how to have that reality to match the rhetoric,” Dorosin said.

Earlier this year, Governor Pat McCrory and the state legislature voted against the Affordable Care Act expansion of Medicaid. Jill Edens, Pastor of the United Church of Chapel Hill, says this also negatively affected low-income families.

“This is just devastating when we don’t have this funding for health care overall and when the state is rejecting that expansion, as churches and with the IFC and with all our partnerships, we’re looking at an ocean of need,” Edens said.

Other Issues Addressed

Fran DiGiano, President of Clean Jordan Lake, also addressed his concern over the lake which provides water for 250,000 people and possible more in the future.

“Cause we’re all interconnected by way of what we call watersheds and the ones I’m concerned about are the ones that feed into Jordan Lake,”  said DiGiano.

DiGiano says it’ll take time to correct what he calls “a 30-year legacy of trash.” He wants a community-wide effort to clean up the liter and invited volunteers.

Pilar Rocha-Goldberg, President of El Centro Hispano, additionally said she hopes to bridge relationships to help Hispanics integrate into the community.

“It’s telling people, ‘We are here and you need to acknowledge that.’  We made a decision and now we are living here. This is our town, our county and our country,” Rocha-Goldberg said.