A group of public education, philanthropic and community leaders gathered at UNC-Chapel Hill yesterday to discuss ways to address growing poverty in the state. The conference was titled, "Poverty, Partnerships and the Public Good: A Call for Engagement by North Carolina Institutions."
The discussion was lively. Gene Nichol, Director of UNC’s Poverty Center commenced the group.
“Poverty is by any standard the largest problem that we face in North Carolina," said Nichol.
The state’s poverty rate has steadily increased over the past five years and now sits at 18%. And the number of poor people has jumped in all demographics, especially among Native Americans and Latinos.
“Forty-one percent of children of color in North Carolina live in poverty, think about that!" said Nichol.
One question raised over and over is how to address the problem in this new economy, in a new political arena with shrinking dollars for the poor.
Yolanda Burwell is a former Senior Fellow at the North Carolina Rural Center. She and about 30 other people lost their jobs in August when the state stripped the organization of much of its funding after a scathing audit.
Burwell says there’s a new normal.
“People are going to have to give up their suspicions and distrust. Because you can’t be the Lone Ranger anymore you are going to have to build bridges with groups and recognize some things and go after and work on things together, that’s a new way of operating," Burwell.
Philanthropists say it’s become harder to give to non-profits and they can’t do it alone. Leslie Winner is Executive Director of the Z Smith Reynolds Foundation.
“So ultimately, philanthropy does not have enough money to address issues of poverty at scale," said Winner.
But Winner is optimistic government, community economic development and public education will live up to their commitment.
“But people do believe in moving forward and moving forward together and that ultimately we will get back on that path," said Winner.