“We have no one in the state of North Carolina living in extreme poverty.”
Those words were spoken in March by Rep. George Cleveland, a Republican from Jacksonville who represents the 14th house district in the North Carolina General Assembly.
According to data from the U.S. Census Bureau, 17.4 percent of North Carolina residents — that is almost one in five — lived below the federal poverty level in 2010. The definition of poverty level, for a family of four, is a total household income of $22,314 or less. Still not convinced poverty exists in North Carolina? More than 700,000 state residents lived below the federal definition of deep poverty — which is an annual income of about $11,000 for a family of four. Again, according to data from the U.S Census, only nine states have a higher deep poverty rate than North Carolina.
More statistics? One in four children in North Carolina lived in poverty in 2010. For African-American, Hispanic and American-Indian children, those rates varied from 38 percent to 43 percent. More than a quarter of a million of North Carolina’s children lived in deep poverty in 2010.
Is there a better definition of a politician out of touch with reality than Cleveland?
Mount Airy is no stranger to poverty. With double-digit joblessness, an economy still struggling to get past the closure of textile and other companies, and a growing homeless population, the city is certainly experiencing its own struggles with poverty.
That is why it was good to see Dr. William Barber II, state president for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), in town on Monday as part of his self-proclaimed The Truth and Hope Tour of Poverty in North Carolina.
The idea behind his tour is to allow people to share their stories of hardship, and hopefully draw attention to the plight of many in the state.
The stories that came from Monday’s rally were heartbreaking, but they certainly illuminated the true condition of people in the community — at least they illuminated that condition for anyone paying attention.
Those stories included individuals who had worked hard most of their lives, only to be out of a job with the end of the local textile industry. Some of those people found other work, only to see that company shut down. One man even told of serving in the military during the Vietnam War then returning home to take up work in a local industry. When that company closed, he moved to another, which in turn shut its doors. A third company, Harvest Time Bread, offered him employment before shuttering earlier this year.
What was puzzling during the rally was a group of protesters nearby whose only reason for being there seemed to be to hurl criticism at President Obama and to state he was the reason for poverty.
Even more puzzling was when Barber invited this group to cross the street and join his rally, to have an open dialogue about the issue. The group declined, instead choosing to stick with their anti-Obama rhetoric. We would guess Cleveland would do well in an election whose district was made up of people like those protesters.
The truth is poverty in North Carolina — in America — is a growing problem that is cutting across racial and political lines, and both political parties share in the blame.
One sign put up by those protesters stated Obama’s policies were food stamps, high gasoline and energy prices and no jobs.
We suspect it might be surprising to some to learn more people in America went on food stamps under President George W. Bush than under any other president in history. According to the USDA, 14.2 million new people were enrolled under President Bush, exceeding the number added under any other president in history. In the 12 months before Obama took office, 4.4 million people were added to the food stamp program.
Gasoline and related fuel prices have been staggering to some families as the price has climbed above the $4 per gallon locally (and $5 per gallon in some parts of the nation) several times over the past few years. The first time that happened was in September 2008, under the administration of Bush.
And the rapid loss of textile-related jobs, and other industrial jobs, can best be traced back to the passage of the North American Free Trade Agreement. This agreement, and similar ones that have come since, made it relatively easy for firms to manufacture goods in other nations, where the cost of labor is extremely low and environmental regulations are non-existent.
NAFTA is a treaty that was signed by President George H.W. Bush, later ratified by a Democratically-controlled House of Representatives and Senate, and then signed into law by President Bill Clinton.
Admittedly, saying NAFTA is the root of all economic ills is simplistic and narrow-minded, and not entirely accurate. Then again, pointing the finger at any given president, or Congress, and saying he, or it, is to blame for high gasoline prices or a supposedly run-away food stamp program is equally simplistic, narrow-minded, and just plain wrong.
So many people continuing to line up on respective sides of the political debate based solely on party lines, repeating incorrect talking points they have learned from some national figure, does nothing to get at the root of the problems. More often than not, such grandstanding only contributes to the problems facing modern society.