Despite a booming economy and
double-digit job growth during the 1990s, more than 1.5million
people throughout the Carolinas remain bogged down by poverty.
In both states, a quarter of the families with kids need
government help for their children to buy lunch at school, and more
than 1 out of 10 families earns less than $15,000 a year.
The Census 2000 Supplementary Survey, a nationwide
study conducted by the U.S. Census Bureau and released today, found
that nearly 250,000 more people in both states are living in poverty
than 10 years ago - particularly children. But far fewer poor
families receive public assistance, due to changes in welfare.
"Even though we're putting more people to work, we've got more
people coming in, and we're having a hard time keeping up," said
Jake Jacobsen, Mecklenburg County Social Services director.
The survey of 700,000 U.S. households asks many of the same
questions as the 2000 Census, but it used a representative sample
rather than a complete count, so the results may differ. It gives
the most complete look to date in areas such as income, employment
and poverty levels; full census results won't be released until next
The survey does contain some bright spots. The per-person income
in both Carolinas moved closer to the national average, and
residents are more educated on average than they were 10 years ago.
More people are working, too. But the manufacturing industry in
the Carolinas continued to unravel during the '90s, as textile and
other plants closed down or left the country.
"It really can't be emphasized too much how our economy has
changed over the last 25 years," said Michael Walden, an economist
at N.C. State University. "We've got new types of jobs, new types of
businesses moving in."
Families were surveyed in 37 N.C. counties and 19 in South
Carolina, with statewide results calculated from those samples.
The survey shows that poverty rates are about the same as a
decade ago - 15 percent in South Carolina and 13 percent in North
But as populations grow, so does the number of people living in
poverty: about 1 million in North Carolina (up 195,000 from 1990);
and some 573,000 in South Carolina (up about 50,000).
Jacobsen says about half his department's caseload involves
people who move here from elsewhere. He walked through the parking
lot recently and noticed the out-of-state license plates.
"Our boosterism has not helped us if we've got people coming in
from Illinois and Oregon thinking there are jobs here" who then need
public aid, he said.
Children suffer from poverty even more than adults. The rate of
child poverty far exceeds that of adults. About 1 in 5 Carolinians
under the age of 18 is considered poor. That's 200,000 children in
South Carolina and 366,000 in North Carolina.
Meanwhile, fewer residents of both states are receiving public
assistance. Only two states - Mississippi and Louisiana - had
steeper declines than South Carolina in the percentage of households
getting government aid.
That's due largely to a healthy economy and national, state and
county welfare changes during the 1990s. These change eligibility
requirements and limited how long people without jobs could receive
While 8 percent of S.C. households received help in 1990, only
about 1 percent received it in 2000 - an 81 percent decline in the
number of families.
North Carolina saw a 70 percent dip in households receiving aid,
while the nation had a 61 percent drop. About 3 percent of all U.S.
homes receive public help.
Jacobsen attributes part of the drop to the booming '90s economy,
which provided jobs.
But the caseloads at his agency have been shooting up during the
past year, as the economy slows.
"We had our biggest months ever in June and July," he said.
"They're coming in faster than we can move them out."
The workforce in both Carolinas grew dramatically during the
decade, with 17 percent more jobs in North Carolina and 12 percent
more in South Carolina.
But a smaller number of them were in manufacturing. South
Carolina lost 23 percent of its manufacturing jobs, while North
Carolina saw a 17 percent decline, down to 1 in 5 workers. In 1970,
35 percent of the state's workers were in manufacturing.
Textiles, apparel and tobacco account for the changes, Walden
said. Other manufacturing jobs, such as transportation equipment,
computers and pharmaceuticals, are rising.
"We've had growth in the high-tech sector," he said, "which means
a growth in high-paying jobs."