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Business & Economy

Groups Tackles Intractable North Carolina Poverty Problem

Father and son relaxing in a living room, a scene from American Winter film.

Gene Nichol, Director of the Center on Poverty, Work & Opportunity at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, said on The State of Things today that the financial collapse really hurt the poor but that the problem is multifaceted.

"When the economy hit the skids in 2008, poverty exploded in North Carolina," he said. ‘"There are structural causes for it. There are public policy causes for it. There are individual causes for it."

On that, he and Brian Balfour, director of policy and operations at the Civitas Institute, agreed.

But whereas Nichol thinks the policies of the current Republican-led General Assembly are damaging the prospects of the poor, Balfour said it was the decisions of Democrats it the decade prior that really contributed to the problem. He noted that in the '80s and '90s, North Carolina was an economic growth leader.

"There is something to be said to really try to evaluate and examine these kinds of policies that have been in place for the past dozen years or so," he said.

 So far this General Assembly session, lawmakers have rejected an expansion of Medicaid, cut unemployment benefits, and they're in the process of enacting tax reform that would lower personal and corporate income tax rates while raising and expanding sales tax. Nichol said it's actions like these people should fear.

"I’m in favor of anything that makes it better for the people in the bottom third," he said. "I’m opposed to anything that makes it worse for people in the bottom third."

But Balfour argued that these decisions will have a net-positive outcome, shrinking government debt, and in the case of tax reform, providing more opportunity for the poor.

"It’s a commonly repeated refrain, that the more you tax something, the less of that you get," he said. "So the more you tax job creators, the less job creation you’re going to get."

Jobs that the impoverished desperately need if they want to climb their way out of poverty.

Host Frank Stasio also discussed the problem of poverty in the United States and North Carolina with:

  • Harry Gantz, director of “American Winter,” showing tonight at the Motorco Music Hall in Durham at 7 p.m. The film follows the story of eight families struck into poverty by the financial collapse of 2008.
  • Tazra Mitchell, a fellow in the Budget & Tax Center at the North Carolina Justice Center
  • Carl Rist, co- president of the Durham People’s Alliance and vice president for the Corporation for Enterprise Development in Washington, D.C.

Preview of "American Winter," showing tonight at the Motorco Music Hall in Durham.

Audio for this segment will be up by 3 p.m.

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